Emergency permit applications available to deal with post-Debby coastal damage

A photo taken by Weiqi Lin, Ph.D., in the Sarasota County Coastal Resources office, shows Tropical Storm Debby damage in front of the condominiums at Turtle Beach on Siesta Key.

Homeowners with damage from Tropical Storm Debby that occurred seaward of the Gulf Beach Setback Line can apply for emergency permits from the state to help them deal with it, Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner reported during the organization’s regular meeting on July 5.

Luckner said she had copies of the applications for those permits, which go to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Information also would be available through a link on the SKA website, she said.

While some homeowners on the southern portion of Siesta Key might need those permits, Luckner said, the majority of the affected residents were on Manasota Key.

“Manasota’s a wreck,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who was attending the SKA meeting.

Luckner pointed out that Sarasota County staff members have “just been working day and night and night and day” to assess damage and help property owners.

She added that almost all the renourished portion of Turtle Beach had been lost as a result of the storm’s effects.

In a June 29 email to county staff, Laird S. Wreford, the county’s coastal resources manager, wrote, “South of Turtle Beach Public Park, from Fisherman’s Cove and Fisherman’s Haven condos down to the Palmer Point Park area, most of the restored beach and restored dune vegetation were washed away. … The rock revetment in front of Fisherman’s Cove and Fisherman’s Haven was exposed for the first time since the construction of the South Siesta Key beach nourishment project.”

When Luckner suggested that Gov. Rick Scott’s declaration of a state of emergency because of the storm would make funding available for recovery efforts, Patterson said her experience as an elected official had been that such declarations meant the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse local governments about  75% of their expenses in remedying problems. However, she said, those reimbursements don’t come for a year or two after the local money is spent, “and you have to get permits to do the work.”

Regarding Turtle Beach, Patterson said county staff already had begun working about a year ago on permits for another renourishment project there, with the expectation that it would take about three years to get the necessary FDEP approval.

The last Turtle Beach renourishment was completed in 2007, with tourist tax revenue funding 45% of the cost, the state paying 37% and property owners along the beach paying the rest through assessments, Wreford told this reporter last fall.

Patterson told the the SKA board and approximately 15 members at the meeting that county officials had expected a renourishment of the beach would be necessary every eight to 10 years — a cycle that would allow property owners to finish paying off one set of assessments before they faced new costs, “so they don’t have a double bill.”

The last renourishment cost $11.5 million, Patterson added.

“I’m not sure that we can anticipate emergency truck-loads of sand … at county expense or FEMA expense to place down there,” she said. “It was always anticipated that the two [condominium complexes] would be a hot spot, because they jut out and they have a rock revetment.”

Other homes that have been in jeopardy in the past, she said, also are closer to the Gulf of Mexico.

Patterson added, “I suspect we’ll wait a few weeks and see how much sand comes back and see if there’s any way [the county] can be of help.”

Diane Erne, a resident of a condominium complex on Avenida Messina in Siesta Village, said “huge holes” had opened up on North Beach Road, near Beach Access 3. “It’s a real safety issue,” she said.

“I asked already for staff to take a look [at that],” Patterson replied. “I got some frantic calls.”

However, Patterson said problems had been recurring for some time with that part of the road.

Erne said she was concerned because “kids are running around there on their [skateboards] along the seawall,” and one of them might fall into a hole.

“There are issues like this everywhere [in the county],” Patterson told her. “We had a huge hole appear east of town on one of our roads.”