Commissioner Detert hopes congressional members can persuade FEMA to extend deadline for South Siesta Beach Repair Project

County staff to host Zoom webinar on project details at 5 p.m. on Jan. 24

At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24, Sarasota County staff will host a Zoom webinar offering details about the planned South Siesta Beach Repair Project, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has required to be completed early this summer.

“A presentation will begin promptly at 5:10 p.m. with a question and answer session immediately following,” the formal webinar notice says. “Attendees will be able to email questions and comments to prior to, during and after the meeting,” the notice adds.

To register for the event, persons may visit this link.

FEMA has awarded the county a grant to cover 75% of the cost of the South Siesta Key Beach Repair Project, but the grant expires on June 30, county staff has emphasized. Thus, staff hopes to see the work get underway in March.

During the Jan. 18 County Commission meeting, Commissioner Nancy Detert told her colleagues during the Reports period that she planned to accompany Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, on an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. They hope to be able to schedule appointments with Florida’s two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key about issues of importance to Sarasota County, Detert said. Among the topics, she continued, would be the FEMA grant deadline for the Siesta Key undertaking.

She added that she agreed with Siesta Key residents who have expressed worries about the use of trucks to haul the sand from an inland mine to Turtle Beach. As she put it, “Trucks in the middle of tourist season, truck after truck after truck, going over the Stickney Point bridge.”

Detert said she and Lewis hope to find a way to get FEMA to extend its grant deadline.

Late last year, leaders of the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Siesta Key Condominium Council sent correspondence to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), urging the department to modify its permit for the South Siesta initiative so barges could transport the sand to the project area, instead of trucks. Directors of the organizations have stressed that the initiative will be taking place at the height of tourist season, when traffic typically backs up on the approaches to Stickney Point Road, as well as on Midnight Pass Road, which the trucks will travel to reach Turtle Beach.

In February 2022, the same day that Rachel Herman, the county’s Environmental Protection Division manager, provided an update about the timeline for the project, Robert Luckner, an SKA director, told the commissioners that the trucks traveling to the Key would exacerbate the seasonal traffic congestion.

On Dec. 16, 2022, Michael Gatz, the Siesta Key Chamber chair, wrote the following to an FDEP staff member assigned to the project, ‘We at the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce are excited about the prospect of the South Siesta Key Beach repair. We do however, have several concerns about the proposed delivery of the sand. The proposed use of trucks during the Spring season would add to an already backed up traffic issue. These kind of traffic delays would most certainly have a negative effect on the South Siesta Key businesses. We would appreciate your consideration in helping find an alternative delivery plan for this project.”

In a Nov. 29, 2022 letter to FDEP, ATM, the firm to which the county awarded the project design contract, also emphasized the “low [sand] placement volume and high mobilization costs of offshore dredges.”

Addressing Siesta Key Association (SKA)  members on Dec. 1, 2022, County Project Manager Curtis Smith said it made no financial sense to use an offshore dredge to bring the sand to the shoreline, given the fact that less than 100,000 cubic yards of sand would be used. Just mobilizing a dredge costs approximately $4 million to $5 million, he said.

During a December 2022 telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Donald DeBerry, senior transportation manager in the county’s Public Works Department, explained that whereas trucks could take 100 loads a day to the project site, the best estimate for barges would be 10 loads a day, and each barge would need to be guided by a tugboat.

Using barges, he said, is “pretty doggone difficult, too,” and “it would take a lot longer.”

Details of the work to come

County staff advertised the bid package on Jan. 13. The deadline for companies to submit their responses is 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 15.

County staff has pointed out that the objective of the project is to replace approximately 92,505 cubic yards of sand that Hurricane Hermine chewed away from the south Siesta beach in September 2016, especially along the southern third of the 2.1-mile area that a contractor finished renourishing about four months earlier.

Hermine remained offshore, but staff documented the erosion she wrought along various parts of the county shoreline.

Project Manager Smith, who is an employee of the county’s Capital Projects Department, explained to SKA members on Dec. 1, 2022 that the contractor is anticipated to use as many as 100 trucks a days to deliver the new sand. The bid package does point out that the access to the project area will be via Clark Road, Midnight Pass Road and Turtle Beach Road. That section adds, “During construction, the Contractor shall make provisions to (a) not interfere with normal vehicular traffic within Turtle Beach Park and (b) control public access and provide for public safety within the construction areas and construction accesses.”

The 2016 South Siesta Beach Renourishment initiative cost about $21.5 million, county staff has noted. Staff’s estimate for the repair project is $4,110,700.

The State of Florida will split the expense remaining after use of the FEMA grant, staff has explained. Thus, staff has predicted that the county’s cost for the undertaking this year could be as low as $310,000.

Because the initiative has to be completed prior to sea turtle nesting season — which officially starts May 1 — the bid package includes the notice that the contractor will be assessed $2,000 per day for each calendar day that the substantial completion of the work is delayed beyond the date county staff sets. Additionally, the contractor will be assessed $500 per day for each calendar day that the county staff’s final acceptance of the work is delayed.

Further, the bid package says, “Existing beach/dune topography, vegetation, and upland improvements shall be disturbed only to the minimum extent necessary for construction and construction access and other authorized activities.”