City Commission reaffirms its commitment to the initiative — and its plan to use local tourist tax revenue for part of the expense — in a resolution for FDEP
The estimated cost of the City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed project to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key has risen, as detailed in a document provided to the City Commission for its July 17 meeting.
The city’s Capital Improvement Program for the 2017-2021 fiscal year put the total at $19 million; the latest figure is $21 million. The federal government would provide $13,020,000 for the project, while the city expects a state grant to cover $3,990,000 of the expense. The rest of the cost — another $3,990,000 — would come from Tourist Development Tax revenue Sarasota County allocates to the city for beach renourishment initiatives, a city chart shows.
The figures are in a memo provided to the City Commission, which also explained that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) annually requests submittals of long-range funding requests for any projects that seek state grants. An accompanying resolution — which won unanimous commission approval on July 17 — says that FDEP’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems requires the city “to indicate support of the proposed [Lido] project,” along with the city’s “ability to provide the necessary local match, and willingness to serve as local sponsor …”
A USACE spokeswoman told The Sarasota News Leader this spring that the President’s Budget for 2018 did not include any money for the federal share of the Lido Renourishment Project. As a result, the backup agenda material for the July 17 City Commission meeting notes that the construction phase of the initiative is planned for the 2019 fiscal year.
Additional money has been noted for the fiscal years of 2020 through 2022 for monitoring of the effects of the project on the Lido shoreline and on sea turtle nesting. The total for each of those three fiscal years is $400,000, with $124,000 to come from the federal government, $138,000 from the state and $138,000 in the form of “local cost share.”
Then, in the 2023 fiscal year, the chart lists $850,000 for permitting and design, with $434,000 coming from the federal government, $133,000 from the state and $208,000 from the local source.
When the USACE unveiled its plans in September 2013 for the dredging of Big Pass to renourish South Lido, the project manager made it clear that the agency expected to remove more sand from Big Pass — or New Pass — for subsequent renourishments of Lido every five years. During an appearance before the Sarasota County Commission in March 2016, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw said she expected those renourishments would take place no more often than every seven years.
No estimates for design, construction or monitoring of initiatives on Lido Key Beach are listed in the city chart beyond the 2023 fiscal year.
The resolution for FDEP was on the City Commission’s Consent Agenda No. 1 for the July 17 regular meeting. Board members may pull items from the Consent Agenda, so they can ask staff questions or discuss the issues. However, no one mentioned the FDEP matter during the meeting. The resolution won unanimous approval, along with other routine business items on that Consent Agenda.
The resolution cites the specific area where the beach renourishment would take place on Lido, which — the resolution says — is an area that “continues to severely erode resulting in minimal beach.” The resolution also notes, “[A] large beach profile provides the best protection for upland properties for a severe storm event,” and it points out that in 1999, the federal government “reauthorized the shore protection project for Lido Key with a commitment for 50 years and the [USACE] has completed a Feasibility Study for a Federal Renourishment Project …”
The “Detailed Project Descriptions and Budget Plan,” dated June 2 and included in the material to be sent to FDEP, says, “Lido Beach is both a jewel for the City of Sarasota and a critical infrastructure protection element.” It adds, “The combination of the beach, hotels and shopping [on St. Armands] Circle are also important to the economy of Sarasota.”
The document also cites an economic impact study regarding Lido Beach that Visit Sarasota County commissioned in 2012. City staff included the resulting PowerPoint presentation in the material going to FDEP. That study showed that the total annual impact Lido Beach had on the Sarasota County economy at that time was $155,537,800 with 3,617 jobs linked to the beach and $5,163,300 produced by the beach in the form of state and local tax revenue.
The average daily impact of visitor spending in 2012 was $224,500, with $14,100 generated in state and local tax revenue, the results showed.
The data in that Visit Sarasota County report was based on 3,975 surveys of visitors staying in commercial lodging — including condominiums — the PowerPoint presentation noted. Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, presented the findings in a public meeting in July 2013.
Prior renourishment efforts
The document city staff prepared for FDEP also provides details about eight Lido shoreline protection projects for which the city has sought state funding assistance, beginning in 1997. Among them is the emergency initiative to add sand to the breach in the wake of severe erosion produced by Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012. That project description points out that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided the city enough money to restore 120,000 cubic yards of sand on Lido, and the Sarasota County Commission allocated additional funds, so the city was able to place 206,000 cubic yards of sand, altogether, on the beach.
Lido residents — and County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo — have complained that the sand in that “Debby project” soon washed away.
The first project on that list involved the dredging of New Pass in 1997 for maintenance purposes. The USACE deposited about 163,000 cubic yards on the north-central portion of Lido Beach, finishing that work in September 1997, the document says. “No City, County or State funds were involved [in that effort],” the document notes.
Preparing for the hearing
Just one day after the City Commission approved the resolution for FDEP, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) — one of the three nonprofits fighting the proposed dredging of Big Pass — issued its 37th newsletter, in which it discussed preparation for the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings proceeding scheduled for the last two weeks of August in Sarasota. SOSS2, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Florida Wildlife Federation will present expert witness testimony, challenging specific facets of the USACE’s scientific analysis, upon which it has based its plans for the Lido Renourishment Project. The goal is to prevent FDEP from issuing a permit for the initiative.
The USACE has stood fast on its assertions that the project will not cause harm to Siesta Key.
The July 18 SOSS2 newsletter says its members have completed their depositions and are in the process of deposing witnesses for the City of Sarasota, the USACE and FDEP. The newsletter adds, “The depositions are going very well and bringing forth supporting information to our case. SOSS2 and SKA are partnering and working with our team of expert witnesses for the Administrative Hearing … [The witnesses] are Dr. Robert Young (modeling), Dr. Todd Walton (littoral drift), Dr. Richard Gilmore (estuarine science) and Dr. Mark Luther (inlet dynamics).”
Both SOSS2 and the SKA have been raising funds for their legal challenges.
The SKA also filed a verified complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota in an effort to prevent the dredging. Judge Lon Arend ruled in late April that the court action would be held in abeyance, pending the outcome of the administrative hearing. He did tell the SKA’s attorney that he would be willing to hear a motion for an emergency injunction to stop removal of sand in the pass if Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter upholds FDEP’s decision to issue a permit to the City of Sarasota and the USACE for the project.
In late March, Canter granted a petition of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), seeking to intervene in the administrative hearing. Lido property owners have cited the urgency of the need to replenish their beach to protect the structures that stand upon it.
The LKRA’s March 9 motion to intervene notes that the association comprises “950 commercial entities, property owners and residents of Lido Key” and that 71% of them “are beachfront property owners.”
SOSS2 Chair Peter van Roekens also has told the News Leader that his organization and the FWF are prepared file a complaint in federal court, if necessary, to stop the removal of sand from Big Pass, which never has been dredged.