County Commission approves plans for seawall on north end of Casey Key, to combat erosion

Staff to work with affected property owners about sharing expense of the construction

This graphic shows the areas of concern on Casey Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

At the recommendation of the director of the Public Works Department, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously has approved a seawall in lieu of a rock revetment to protect the road on north Casey Key.

During a May 10 public hearing, Spencer Anderson, who also is the county’s chief engineer, reminded the board members that, in May 2021, they asked staff to research the potential of making that switch after a Casey Key Road resident requested it.

Previously — in December 2018 — the commissioners had called for staff to work on the design of a rock revetment at both the north Casey Key location and a mid-Key site that have been the focus of erosion concerns.

Formally, on May 10, the commissioners approved an increase in the county’s contract with Erickson Consulting Engineers of Sarasota from $1,064,390 to $1,498,840 for the design change.

During his presentation last week, Anderson also reminded the board members that representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued a letter in early 2021, advising county staff that the organization would not provide a favorable recommendation for a rock revetment at the mid-Key site because of concerns that it would interfere with sea turtle nesting. However, FWC indicated a seawall there would be appropriate, Anderson noted.

As a result, he continued, staff has been working on plans to align the county seawall in that location with those on either side that the commissioners agreed to allow private property owners to build.

The mid-Key site is in the 2100 block of Casey Key Road. The natural bluff has eroded away over time, staff has pointed out.

The north Casey Key site is in the 700 block. An existing revetment at that location, which is about 1,600 feet long, was constructed of cement, shell and sand in 1990, Anderson noted on May 10.

This graphic provides details about the two areas of concern on Casey Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

County staff not only has been concerned about continued erosion compromising the road in the mid-Key area, as Anderson has pointed out, but staff also has voiced worries about potential damage to a potable water line under the road.

The north Casey Key plans

In regard to the north Casey Key site: Anderson told the commissioners on May 10, “There is no larger beach area” on the water side of the step revetment. Alongside the majority of the revetment, he said, the Gulf of Mexico is immediately adjacent to the structure.

With a seawall in place, Anderson continued, “You do actually gain a little bit of usable area between the edge of the road and the top of the seawall,” but no accumulation of beach would be anticipated seaward of the wall. He estimated the resulting functional space would be roughly 10 to 15 feet wide.

This graphic shows a preliminary design for a seawall at the north Casey Key site. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“There is more sand accretion and accumulation at the mid-Key area,” he pointed out, referencing the beach in that location.

Anderson also explained, that, after the seawall was completed on north Casey Key, traffic could continue to use the road while staff worked to reconstruct that road in two phases. The road in that area, he emphasized, is “severely compromised.” Stabilizing it has been a major focus of the Public Works Department plans for that portion of the barrier island, he emphasized.

Chair Alan Maio stressed, “When that road gets undermined, it’s undermined dramatically, … and that is the only way in or out for an awful lot of people.”

A loss of part of the road to erosion seems to have become an annual occurrence, Anderson responded. Fortunately, he said, a total collapse of the road has yet to happen.

“It’s very difficult to assess [its condition] properly,” Anderson explained, without digging into the ground around it. “We’ve tried ground-penetrating radar and borings,” he continued. However, those efforts did not provide sufficient information about the conditions under the road, he said.

“Rebuilding that road and [constructing the seawall is] critically important to maintaining the access to the properties north and along that road segment,” Anderson emphasized.

This graphic shows how a rock revetment could have been designed to protect the northern area of Casey Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Homeowners have access to the mainland only from that stretch of road and Blackburn Point Road, which is at the southern end of Casey Key, Anderson added, reinforcing Maio’s remark.

Further, Anderson pointed out that staff has made an effort to contact the owners of the 14 parcels that would be affected by the north Casey Key project, to ask their views of the proposed switch from a rock revetment to a seawall. Of the eight reached, he said, six expressed support for a seawall.

He also addressed members of the Casey Key Association during their January meeting, he added, to discuss the proposed change in plans.

Additionally, Anderson noted that staff has been working on a proposal for the affected property owners at the mid-Key site to shoulder part of the expense of the county seawall there. He also would like board permission to conduct similar, detailed discussions with those who own the parcels in the area of the north Key project site, he said.

Those homeowners on the northern end of Casey Key have raised the same types of questions that those in the mid-Key area brought up, Anderson added, in regard to helping pay for the construction.

This photo shows damage on the southbound section of North Casey Key Road on June 12, 2020. County staff had to undertake an emergency repair project to rebuild the road. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

In their vote following the hearing, the commissioners gave Anderson approval for further discussions with north Casey Key residents on the cost-sharing proposal.

Public views

Three Casey Key homeowners did address the board members during the public hearing. The first one, Tim Hayes, who lives in the 500 block, wanted only to confirm that the county would shift to the seawall design for the north Key project. Chair Maio assured him of that.

Nathan Ayala addresses the commissioners on May 10. News Leader image

The second, Nathan Ayala, a general contractor who lives in the 600 block, talked of the fact that property owners on the northern end of the island did have access to a beach in years past.

Ever since the second renourishment of the south Siesta Key beach was completed in 2016, he added, the sand in the northern part of Casey Key’s shoreline has been gone. Therefore, he said, residents would like for the commissioners to consider construction of a breakwater offshore. That would allow sand once again to accrete in front of their properties, Ayala pointed out.

He voiced opposition to a seawall or a new revetment.

Planning already is underway for a Casey Key beach renourishment project, he reminded the commissioners. “I think this is a little bit juvenile,” Ayala continued, for the board members not to consider the synergy of that undertaking and a plan that would protect the beach after sand were in place. The breakwater is one facet of the beach renourishment studies, he noted.

(Anderson explained after the public comments that the breakwater would not become a reality within “the next three to four months. Something has to be done now.” However, he acknowledged that a breakwater “could be a good addition” to the other measures that have been proposed.)

(As for the renourishment of the beach: A firm serving as a consultant to Casey Key Association, Humiston & Moore Engineers in Naples, reported on Jan. 27 that that undertaking likely would cost up to $30 million, with construction potentially beginning in late 2023 and continuing into 2024.)

Not only would homeowners benefit from the beach, Ayala pointed out on May 10, but also the “endless amount of people every day that walk down that road, bike down that road.”

A seawall would just result in drivers having to contend with more spray flung on their vehicles, Ayala added.

A county truck on North Casey Key Road gets sprayed by surf on June 8, 2020, thanks to the lingering effects of Tropical Storm Cristobal’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

(Anderson also explained that the road would be elevated slightly in conjunction with the north Key seawall initiative, which should reduce the frequency of the Gulf’s washing over the road.)

Finally, Marie Dickson, who, in May 2021, proposed the seawall instead of a rock revetment at the northern site, said she was opposed to the prospect of county assessments of homeowners for part of the project cost. “I think it’s more of a benefit for the county than it is for us,” she pointed out of the seawall.

The step revetment, Dickson added, “still seems to be working from the southern edge of the north Key project, up past six properties, maybe eight properties.”

Marie Dickson offers her remarks on May 10. News Leader image

“We used to have beach,” she added, “and I hope to have beach again. … I don’t feel like I’m getting a benefit that I don’t have. Right now, I have access to the water. … With the seawall or rocks, it does become a lot more difficult,” she pointed out.

Following the public comments, Commissioner Christian Ziegler told Anderson that he feels it is important to protect the property owners’ access to the beach, at the same time staff works to stabilize the road and protect the homes from erosion.

“We will absolutely take into consideration” property owners’ desire to get to the Gulf, Anderson responded. Staff is analyzing how the county’s initiative and the beach renourishment plans will work together, he added.

Ziegler then told Anderson he expected staff to come back to the commissioners in the future with details of how to ensure the property owners’ access to the shoreline and the Gulf of Mexico.

When Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion to approve the shift to the seawall project and the additional public outreach to homeowners regarding sharing the expense of the work, he talked of his desire for staff to put a focus on how the various shoreline protection initiatives for Casey Key could work together.

In seconding the motion, Chair Maio said, “All the pieces need to occur.”