County’s coastal resources manager tells a Siesta Key organization that creation of a contingency plan in the event of unintended consequences would give board and community ‘a comfort level’
Just days after a Siesta Key resident urged the Sarasota County commissioners to take a careful look at the peer review the board authorized last year of the Lido Key Beach renourishment project, a county spokesman told The Sarasota News Leader that no individual briefings for the board members had been scheduled thus far.
In a Nov. 20 email response to the News Leader, spokesman Jason Bartolone also said no formal presentation of the peer review, undertaken by the Atkins firm in Sarasota, has been planned for the commission.
In the meantime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is continuing to work with its partner on the project, the City of Sarasota, USACE spokeswoman Lt. Col. Susan J. Jackson (U.S. Army Reserve) told the News Leader in a Nov. 20 email. Based in the USACE district office in Jacksonville, Jackson added that she did not have a submission date as of that time regarding the USACE’s delivery of more materials to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
In early October, the state agency issued a second Request for Information (RAI2), seeking more details as it reviews the USACE/City of Sarasota application to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach.
According to FDEP guidelines, the USACE and the city have up to six months to provide all the documentation the FDEP is seeking for the second Request for Information.
Bartolone told the News Leader last week that he learned from the county’s coastal resources manager, Laird Wreford, that the county had sent copies of the Atkins study to the City of Sarasota, the USACE and the FDEP “for their consideration.” Bartolone added, “We are monitoring to determine their responses and how they address the concerns identified.”
On Nov. 17, during the County Commission’s regular meeting in Sarasota, Peter van Roekens, a member of the board of directors of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), discussed the Atkins peer review during public comments, commending it to the commissioners. “It’s a very complete report,” he added, though SOSS2 has “a few minor quibbles with it.”
The primary concern on which the peer review focuses, van Roekens continued, is that the natural downdrift transport of sand to Siesta Key’s shoreline “will be reduced” if the USACE and the city proceed with their plans to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key and build two groins on Lido to try to hold the sand in place between the five-year renourishments planned over the 50-year life of the project.
Another major concern Atkins outlined in the peer review, he noted, is that the USACE and its consulting engineers used a model “that does not actually support the modeling of groins” to design the two structures proposed for south Lido Key.
Finally, van Roekens pointed out, the Atkins team stressed its view that the USACE has not provided enough data about its plans for the project for Atkins to render an opinion about whether the studies and modeling the USACE has undertaken are sufficient.
In years past, van Roekens told the board, prominent coastal scientists have explained their views that removing sand from the Big Pass shoal will be detrimental to Siesta Key and its beaches. Even the county’s own Inlet Management Plan, he said — which also underwent a peer review — pointed out the lack of available data about potential risks of any dredging in the pass.
Finally, the USACE data used to support the Lido project is outdated, van Roekens told the commissioners. “I urge you to look at [the peer review] carefully.”
In its March 17 application to the FDEP, the USACE wrote, “The entire project can be completed prior to the May 1, 2016 sea turtle nesting season, assuming all permits and approvals required for the project are issued in a timely fashion.”
The document added that the groins on Lido Key could be constructed before or after the beach nourishment project “in the 2015 fall/winter or 2016.”
The FDEP subsequently issued its first Request for Additional Information on April 15. The USACE responded on Sept. 4, and the second Request for Additional Information came from the FDEP on Oct. 7. Therefore, with the USACE response to that request pending, it is not certain when the FDEP will provide the necessary permit for the project to get under way. The department has the option of denying the application, an FDEP spokeswoman has explained to the News Leader.
In light of the ongoing requests and exchanges of information, the News Leader last week also asked USACE spokeswoman Jackson about whether a federal time limit has been imposed on the project’s authorization. She replied that none exits.
Jackson added, “Congress has not awarded construction funds for the Lido Key project. The project isn’t in the [President of the United States’ Fiscal Year 2016] budget; however, we’re awaiting final budget numbers that will likely come out in February. We’re preparing our work so if funding does become available at any time, we’re ready to execute.”
A means of easing concerns?
During the Nov. 5 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Wreford, the county’s coastal resources manager, told the approximately 30 people present that if the USACE and the city provide the data the Atkins team found lacking in the renourishment plans, “that will go a long ways toward answering some unanswered questions and providing a comfort level to the community and to our County Commission.”
Wreford repeated what he had told the News Leader early this month: that the USACE may have sufficient models and studies to support the dredging and renourishment proposals. However, if all of that work was completed, he told the SKA members, “it just didn’t get clarified and reported well enough [in USACE documents] to show the basis for the conclusions the [USACE] came up with.”
If all the appropriate research has not been undertaken to support the USACE’s conclusions, he continued, then the peer review is “a gentle suggestion” to the USACE and the city that that extra research and modeling should be pursued.
It will be up to the County Commission to decide whether to make any formal comments to the FDEP regarding the peer review, Wreford added.
Further, he characterized concerns the Atkins report raised regarding potential negative impacts on Ted Sperling Park, which the county owns on South Lido Key, as “very, very astute.”
In its Executive Summary, the Atkins document says that because of their location on Lido Key, the planned groins “may impede the downdrift flow of stand and starve the beaches to the south,” including those on Siesta. It adds, “Permeable versus non-permeable groins may need to be evaluated to mitigate this impact of the groins. The end effects on Ted Sperling Park need to be better understood.”
It would be “extremely beneficial,” Wreford told the SKA members, if the USACE and the city made it clear they will have “some sort of contingency plan” — perhaps in the form of funds set aside or a bond — that would cover any remediation that might prove necessary. In other words, he continued, the city and the USACE should be prepared for unwelcome scenarios: for example, “if this happens, this is what we will do.”
None of the documentation provided thus far by the USACE offers details about such a contingency plan, he added.
Damage to the navigation channel in Big Pass has been as much a concern of area residents as the potential for harm to Siesta Key’s shoreline, Wreford pointed out.
SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner — who was unable to attend the Nov. 5 meeting — has served as the SKA’s point person on the Lido renourishment issue. She told the News Leader prior to the Nov. 5 meeting that she and her husband, Bob, had studied the peer review. One major issue they have raised, she said, is why the USACE would begin the project with the removal of close to 1 million cubic yards of sand from the Big Pass ebb shoal. (The latest information the USACE provided to the FDEP says it plans to dredge 775,000 cubic yards of sand from Big Pass instead of the 1.3 million cubic yards Project Manager Milan Mora cited in early public presentations on the proposal.)
“Why not start small?” Catherine Luckner asked in the interview with the News Leader.
The county has leverage right now in the form of the Atkins report, she added. If the commissioners do not require the USACE and the city to make sure they can remedy any negative impacts, she foresees no recourse if problems do arise, she told the News Leader.