Board members talk of how foolish they would appear if homes just north of project area end up falling into Gulf of Mexico
The Sarasota County commissioners stressed to staff this week that they want to make every effort to include more than just potentially six extra houses to the Manasota Key Beach Renourishment Project they will undertake with Charlotte County.
“We gotta help these folks,” Chair Charles Hines said, referring to property owners north of the planned project area. “If not, we’re going to be on the national news.”
Hines was the first board member to describe a scenario involving a person living beyond the boundary of the proposed Sarasota County portion of the initiative: Although that person’s house is at risk of falling into the Gulf of Mexico, the person has to watch as the new sand being piped onto the beach just south of his property.
That person is thinking, “‘Why can you not include me in this?’” Hines pointed out.
That homeowner also is pondering the fact that the County Commission, relying on longstanding policies, has not allowed him to implement any shoreline hardening measure to protect his property, Hines continued.
“So whatever it takes … Try to find a solution,” Hines told Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division.
Herman stood before the board on July 9, seeking formal votes related to the renourishment initiative dubbed Option 2 for residents on Sarasota County’s side of Manasota Key Beach. It will entail the piping in of offshore sand to create a 50-foot-wide beach along a 1.63-mile stretch from the northern third of Blind Pass Beach Park to the Charlotte County line. The cost has been estimated at $8,625,176, Herman noted, which includes a contingency reflecting 5% of the total expense.
Another facet of the public hearing focused on authorizing staff to develop a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU), which would allow the county to require the property owners affected by the project to help pay for it.
Herman explained that Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for county beach renourishment initiatives, a commercial loan, state grant funds for renourishment efforts and the MSBU assessments would cover the expense of the project, as proposed.
On a motion by Commissioner Nancy Detert, the board members unanimously approved all of the proposed motions.
Herman also explained that, based on discussions the board members conducted in April, staff would be back before them in September to discuss the potential of adding six homes north of the Option 2 project area to the joint initiative with Charlotte County.
Michael Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants of Naples — the Charlotte County consultant who has worked on the joint project — still is investigating the facets of including those other properties in the initiative, Herman added.
However, the lone speaker during the July 9 public hearing — Manasota Key Road homeowner Harry Artz — talked of the severity of erosion he and his immediate neighbors are experiencing, and they would not be helped by the incorporation of the six extra properties into the Option 2 initiative.
The foundations of two homes already have been undermined, Artz told the board. “The ongoing bluff erosion is beyond critical.”
The Option 3 issues
He and his immediate neighbors live in the portion of Manasota Key that Poff referenced in previous discussions as Option 3. Because of hardbottom in the Option 3 area, Poff has explained to the Sarasota County commissioners that mitigation efforts required by the state and federal governments would be much more expensive if the board were to pursue renourishment in that area.
A 2016 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) document explains that hardbottom provides “habitat critical for the recruitment/settlement, growth, and reproduction of numerous organisms. In this capacity, hardbottom habitat serves as a nursery, spawning, and foraging area for ecologically and economically valuable species.”
“It’s too great of a resource,” Poff said of hardbottom when he addressed the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissioners on Feb. 28. State and federal environmental agencies will not allow it to be covered with sand, he added.
Poff had proposed a truck-hauling initiative for the Option 3 area as the most likely project to win the necessary state permit. Yet, Herman noted on July 9, that initiative most likely could not take place for an extra two years.
During his testimony, Artz emphasized to the Sarasota County commissioners the fact that some of the homes in the Option 3 area are more threatened than those in the section of Manasota Key Beach planned for renourishment.
Moreover, Artz continued, “Future storms will jeopardize the road behind the remaining bluff. … Our erosion has reached the point that the public may no longer pass north or south at high tide without risking injury, as there is no beach remaining in front of dangerously eroded rock revetments.”
Even if the commissioners chose to pursue a plan that would put just 20 feet of new sand in front of the Option 3 homes, Artz said, that “would more than double the available beach, providing additional protection …”
And they could be included in the MSBU assessment strategy, he pointed out, if the board made them part of the joint project with Charlotte County.
Earlier this year, Poff estimated the expense of a 20-foot-wide beach at $5.8 million.
“God knows what [that area] will look like in two years,” Commissioner Alan Maio said of the Option 3 properties, pointing out, “I mean that sincerely.”
The permitting process and the frustrations
Following Artz’s comments, Chair Hines told Herman, “There seems to be plenty of sand” from the offshore sites that will be used for the Option 2 project. Noting Poff’s suggestion of trucking in sand for the Option 3 area, Hines added, “That’s government bureaucracy. To me, that’s gone kind of crazy,” not to be able to just pipe in additional sand.
The grains of sand that would be brought in by truck, Herman explained, would be of different size than those in the sand that would be coming from the offshore borrow areas. Thus, the truck-hauled sand would have a different impact on the hardbottom in front of the Option 3 homes, she said.
If the board members wanted staff to ask Poff to spend more time on the complete version of Option 3, Herman said, staff would do that. Then his findings would be included in the discussion in September that she had referenced earlier.
“For the most part,” she pointed out, “the engineering analysis of Option 3 has been done.”
Further commissioner exchanges with Herman focused on staff’s concerns about winning a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for an Option 3 project involving hardbottom, as well as the expense of mitigation.
“I’m starting to get a little frustrated,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler said at one point. “I’m with Commissioner Hines all the way on this … How silly is it that we’re doing a project so close and somehow telling [the Option 3 homeowners] that we can’t get their project done.”
“Let’s just get it done,” Ziegler added. “I want to see some options.”
If state environmental staff “is tying our hands,” Ziegler continued, then the commissioners should “go to our state leaders and get some changes.”