Sarasota city manager and Lido residents continue criticism of County Commission’s call last week for a more thorough vetting of the proposed dredging of Big Sarasota Pass
At the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Sarasota, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) may wait as late as Oct. 1 to decide whether the city and the federal agency have provided all the materials necessary for its staff to decide whether the permit application for the proposed $19-million Lido Renourishment Project is complete.
Under state law, FDEP had 30 days from Aug. 1 to finish its review of the most recent documents from the USACE regarding the plan to renourish South Lido Key with sand from Big Sarasota Pass. Additionally, a waiver a consultant for the USACE signed on Aug. 31 makes it clear that by agreeing to extend the 30-day timeline for the state response, the city and the USACE also are agreeing to push back the 90-day deadline for the state either to issue a notice that it plans to give them a permit for the project or issue a notice that it plans to deny the permit. That 90-day timeline encompasses the 30-day period.
The Sarasota News Leader had requested a copy of any communication issued this week regarding FDEP’s response to the USACE’s submission late on Aug. 1 of its response to FDEP’s second Request for Additional Information (RAI2).
The waiver was signed by Thomas P. Pierro, director of operations for CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure, the Boca Raton firm that has served as a consultant to the USACE as it has worked with the city on the application for the renourishment plans.
Regardless of the waiver, FDEP spokesman Dee Ann Miller told the News Leader in a Sept. 1 email, “The department’s completeness review is ongoing.”
City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw did not respond to a News Leader request for a comment about the waiver. However, city and county staff members were dealing with multiple concerns — including localized flooding — as a result of Hurricane Hermine’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico.
USACE spokeswoman Susan J. Jackson replied to the News Leader by email on Sept. 1: “The waiver will allow [FDEP] more time to review all the information that we submitted regarding RAI2.”
Since late June, City of Sarasota staff members have been saying they expected FDEP to issue the permit this fall, so the USACE could proceed with its plans to dredge about 1.2 million cubic yards from Big Pass to renourish a critically eroded, 1.6-mile stretch of South Lido.
Backlash from Lido residents and city staff
On Aug. 23 — responding to the July 14 request of the Siesta Key Association — the Sarasota County Commission unanimously called for the USACE to withdraw its 2015 Finding of No Significant Impact regarding the Lido project and, instead, pursue a much more detailed study called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The commission also sent a letter to FDEP, explaining its concerns about the USACE proposal to use the parking lot of the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key as a staging area for work on that beach. City Engineer DavisShaw told the News Leader subsequent to the vote that the staging area was not necessary. Nonetheless, narrative about the planned use of it was included in the RAI2 response to the state.
The letter signed by County Commission Chair Al Maio, dated Aug. 24, was made part of the public record FDEP has been compiling on the Lido Renourishment Project application.
In response to a request for an update about the county’s letter to the USACE, spokeswoman Jackson wrote the News Leader in a Sept. 1 email, “I checked with our team, and it’ll be a few weeks before we have a response. I think it may take longer if storm events put us into emergency management mode.”
Jackson was referring to Hurricane Hermine.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 23 County Commission vote, City Manager Tom Barwin formally criticized County Administrator Tom Harmer for not making city commissioners and staff aware that the matter was on the agenda that day.
In an Aug. 24 email to Harmer’s assistant, Barwin wrote, “Many are very disappointed that an issue of this importance and magnitude up for a possible vote, did not warrant a heads up to city staff, officials and Lido businesses and residents. We have had staff and experts working on this for years now who are intimately familiar with the many studies, analysis, threats, past storm impacts, similar restoration experiences on New Pass, monitoring options, permitting processes, who may have been informative and helpful to all concerns. More importantly, unfortunately, yesterday’s county board agenda did not reflect such a measure was up for a vote.”
Harmer responded in an Aug. 25 email: “[T]his was an … item on the 8/23 Board agenda that was published on 8/18. It was item 56.B Update on the ‘Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.’ In the back-up material it included a letter that was sent to our Board from a group that was asking the Commission to request the [USACE] to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement as part of their project.”
Harmer added, “We understand that the [Sperling] Park staging area is cited in the application but the County has not yet been approached by the City or the [USACE] so the Board wanted the FDEP to highlight to the [USACE] the need for County Commission approval.”
Barwin also wrote of his understanding that county commissioners voiced willingness on Aug. 23 to help the city with an interim project on South Lido Key. “What would trigger … a county emergency beach restoration/nourishment effort?” Barwin asked. “How long does the county think that would take from the start of the process to restoring Lido? Where would the emergency sand come from? What would be the environmental implications of the emergency sand restoration? … Would the city have any input on the matter and sand quality? How much would it cost? Where would the funding come from? Would the county secure all of the required permits?”
Barwin concluded, “In the future please advise my office of any key county staff, or possible county board discussions regarding Lido Beach as city residents are also county residents and taxpayers and certainly would like to be involved in those discussions and our offices will help with the communications.”
Harmer pointed out in his Aug. 25 response, “Our Board has not taken any formal action on … any other action that the City may be considering regarding interim measures to address the current conditions.”
Barwin also has responded to a number of Lido Key residents who have sent emails to the city commissioners and city staff, expressing their anger with the County Commission.
In an Aug. 30 email to a Lido Key condominium owner, Barwin wrote that city representatives are “urging the county [to] embrace and partner with our cities toward the prompt implementation of a continuous beach, shoal, boating channel, and sea grass monitoring plan to be sure we understand and document the impacts of each erosion event, its causes, where the sand has migrated to, and appropriate measures for ongoing shoreline protection/beach renourishment in the years ahead. We have emphasized the importance of this type of strategy with Sarasota County leadership and they appear very receptive.”