Staff asked to come back to County Commission in January with more information about paying for the initiatives, including potential of special taxing district
With erosion continuing to undermine the structural integrity of portions of Casey Key Road — and a public water line threatened in one area — the Sarasota County commissioners unanimously have agreed to allow staff to begin the design and permitting process for a rock revetment on the northern part of the barrier island.
However, during a Dec. 11 discussion that took close to 90 minutes, the board members voiced concerns about staff’s recommendation for constructing a seawall in the middle of Casey Key to ameliorate the problems in that area. Spencer Anderson, the county’s Public Works Department director, and representatives of a Jacksonville-based firm that studied the erosion — Taylor Engineering — explained that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has not issued a permit in five years for a new rock revetment because those structures encompass a wider footprint than seawalls. The main concern, the commissioners learned, was the documentation of a sea turtle nest in the mid-key area. As a result, staff and the consultants explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would be reluctant to approve a permit for a rock revetment in that location.
Anderson told the board that staff had discussed the issue with representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). “It is a very difficult process to obtain a permit for the rock revetment.” Still, he said, “There’s probably a way to get there. It may take a long time … and a lot of resources to get there.”
“We basically have one road there,” Chair Nancy Detert told him, “and they need to understand that.”
Anderson concurred with the fact that a solitary road serves as the hurricane evacuation route for Casey Key residents. Nonetheless, he said, the permitting agencies also would take into account the fact that “everything seaward of the road is private property.”
Nonetheless, commissioners voiced agreement with a Casey Key resident who addressed them earlier that morning, saying a seawall potentially could lead to exacerbation of erosion on adjoining parts of the beach.
The motion — made by Commissioner Alan Maio — ultimately called for staff to evaluate both the seawall option and the rock revetment option for the mid-key project, which would be in the vicinity of 2120 Casey Key Road.
Additionally, Commissioners Michael Moran and Charles Hines voiced hesitation about reviving a special taxing district that paid for a step revetment and other facilities on the northern and southern parts of Casey Key between 1991 and 1995. Moran talked, for example, of having staff conduct a straw poll of the owners of the 411 parcels that would be included in the taxing district to pay for the new projects.
Finally, the board voted unanimously to table the decision about how to fund the new proposed work — including the potential of using the special taxing district — until January 2019. Moran asked that staff consider the best means of learning how the majority of the affected property owners would feel about shouldering part of the expense.
The person who addressed them earlier during the meeting — Archie Urciuoli — said the Casey Key residents he was representing in the mid-key area objected to the prospect of having to cover 50% of the cost of two construction projects, as the road and the water line both are public facilities.
Urciuoli added that the taxing district, which was established more than 30 years ago, “is defunct and should not be applicable.”
When the commission approved a special tax assessment of property owners on southern Siesta Key for two beach renourishment projects, he pointed out, those residents benefited from the improvements to their property as a result. The Casey Key situation, Urciuoli said, is different.
In the meantime, Larry Mau, assistant county engineer, explained that a temporary stabilization measure county staff had created for the middle of Casey Key Road — involving sandbags — is expected to have a life between three and five years.
Responding to a question from Commissioner Hines, Mau pointed out, “[The sandbags] break down due to the sun, surf.”
“In your opinion, [are] the road and the water line protected so long as the bags stay in place?” Hines asked.
“I believe [they are] well protected right now,” Mau responded.
Nonetheless, he advised the commissioners, in the event of a major hurricane, “All bets are off.”
Explaining the situation
In opening the Dec. 11 discussion, Anderson, the Public Works director, explained that staff had engaged in extensive outreach to members of the homeowners association on Casey Key and had sent out direct mailers about the coastal erosion study that Taylor Engineering undertook. “Although we may not be completely aligned,” he said, all the parties “have a good understanding of the issues at hand.”
Showing the board aerial views of Casey Key, Mau explained that in 2007, 80 to 100 feet of sand was in front of the step revetment on north Casey Key. Then, providing an aerial view taken earlier this year, Mau continued, “That sand now is all gone.”
Another photo showed a vehicle driving past the area of the revetment during a winter storm. The surf, Mau added, “will completely cover the road, so it can be a hazardous situation in very large waves.”
In 2017, Mau continued, members of the public notified county staff about concerns that the Casey Key Road was settling and that dips had appeared. When crew members opened up the road, Mau said, they “found a very large void under it.”
“When it was constructed in 1990,” he added, “[the workers] did a very good job, because it held up.”
Staff used 200 cubic yards of low-grade concrete in the void, he noted, which was equivalent to filling a 20-foot by 17-foot room. Nonetheless, he said, “We’re continuing to get cracks in the road.”
Commissioner Maio pointed out that he had received at least 50 emails complimenting staff on the repairs. “It’s absolutely scary,” Maio added of the erosion involving the revetment.
When Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked whether staff had inspected the rest of the road, Mau replied, “Yes.”
The Taylor Engineering group found smaller voids, Mau noted, which staff also had filled. “We’re comfortable that all of the voids were taken care of.”
The firm recommended three alternatives for stabilizing the northern part of the road, Mau continued: a vertical seawall at the edge of the road, costing about $7.6 million; a beach renourishment project and construction of a breakwater, at an estimated expense of $8.5 million; and a rock revetment placed over the existing step revetment, at a cost of $4.4 million.
In that situation, Mau said, staff recommended the rock revetment, “even though it’s a little more difficult to permit than the seawall itself.”
Regarding the mid-key situation, Mau explained that 10 to 15 feet of horizontal buffer and a 10- to 15-foot vertical bluff existed in the area of 2120 Casey Key Road “for a lot of years.” Hurricane Irma in September 2017 eroded that area, he continued, “right up to the edge of the road,” which is crumbling.
A potable water line is under the road, he pointed out.
“The surf is basically up against the base of the bluff,” Mau said.
Slides Mau showed the board included a photo of the marked turtle nesting area, which Mau said he had seen himself.
After Hurricane Irma’s passage, he continued, staff built two rows of 4-foot sandbags, up to a height about 8 feet above the surf line, to stabilize the area. “That is holding up very well. … Staff worked a lot of long days to build this,” he added, and “we recently won a [national] stormwater award for this project.”
The two alternatives for the mid-key project, Mau pointed out, are a 500-foot steel seawall and a rock revetment.
“Why is it easier to permit a seawall than a rock revetment?” Chair Detert asked.
Then Mau explained that the rock revetment would encompass the turtle-nesting area.
“They’re more concerned about turtle nesting than erosion on either side of a seawall?” Detert asked.
“Federal agencies have a strong opinion about sea turtle nesting,” Mau responded.
With all the facets of each project considered, Mau then noted, the seawall would cost about $3.4 million, while the rock revetment would cost about $4.1 million.
Hines indicated that the board could authorize staff to apply for a permit for the rock revetment and then, if that is denied, staff could pursue permitting for the seawall.
Mau said the Taylor Engineering consultants were worried that the sandbags would not last long enough to get the new structures in place.
“You’ll get an indication early on, but it reasonably could take a year to get a conclusive answer” from federal officials about the rock revetment permit, Cliff Truitt, chief engineer for Taylor Engineering, explained.
When Commissioner Ziegler asked whether the sandbags could be replaced if that proved necessary, Anderson replied, “The bags do require periodic maintenance to keep them intact.” If a breach occurred, Anderson added, he felt that more sandbags could be put in place of those that had failed.
The special tax district option
In terms of paying for the projects, Mau began an explanation of the North Casey Key Special Tax District, which covers both project areas. It was set up in 1988, he said, following a vote during which two-thirds of the affected property owners supported it. The cost of the original step revetment on north Casey Key was split 50/50 with the property owners, he added. Afterward, beginning with the 1996 tax year, the millage rate for the district was reset to zero, he noted.
In response to a question from Commissioner Hines, Deputy County Attorney Karl A. Senkow explained that a Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), such as the one established for Casey Key, “does not have an expiration date. … There is no automatic sunset.”
“It can sit dormant for a number of years,” Hines asked, and then be recreated under circumstances such as those the board was considering?
Senkow confirmed that that was correct.
Mau pointed out that staff had developed two alternatives in which the MSTU would provide half the expense of each proposed project. An estimated five-year payback period would need a millage set at 1.1287, with a property owner paying $1,129 per year. For a 10-year payback period, he said, the millage would be set at 0.6366, and a property owner would pay $637 a year. The figures, a slide noted, were based on projected tax values for 2019, and they included debt service and collection fees.
Commissioner Moran then asked Senkow about the possibility of a referendum for the owners of the property, to determine their views on the five-year and 10-year timelines.
Senkow replied that he believed the board could call and hold an election for that purpose, “but those additional costs would need to be considered.”
Hines expressed concern that the ordinance that established the MSTU district called for an advisory board to be in place; yet, no such group exists.
Moreover, Hines said, Urciuoli had pointed out that morning that the improvements would not be just for the residents.
“I have the same problem you have,” Detert replied: “that it would be a taxing unit when it’s really to repair roads” and the water line.
When Moran later raised the option of a “straw poll” of the affected residents, Senkow told him such a poll could be taken, but it would be “limited by voluntary responses, obviously …”
Detert noted that one issue with conducting a straw poll would be deciding which people to include — full-time residents or both those and part-time residents — and settling on how many responses would be necessary for the board members to feel they had heard from the majority.