Extra funding from City of Sarasota beach renourishment account to cover expense of additional sand for emergency Lido renourishment project

Money allocated to city out of Tourist Development Tax revenue collected by Sarasota County

Lido Key Beach is relatively quiet on a late August day. Photo courtesy City of Sarasota

With no comments on Sept. 3, the Sarasota City Commission agreed to a transfer of $273,899.36 out of its Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax fund to cover the expense of extra sand for its emergency renourishment project on Lido Key Beach.

The decision came as the board members unanimously approved their Consent Agenda No. 2 of routine business items.

Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue is collected by the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office and then apportioned to a number of initiatives on the basis of a formula established by county ordinance. Each municipality receives a certain amount of funding for beach renourishment initiatives.

A staff memo provided to the City Commission in advance of its Sept. 3 regular meeting explained that the extra TDT money would pay for “additional sand [needed] at the southern end of the [renourishment] project where there are building structures extremely vulnerable to wave activity …”

The emergency renourishment initiative on Lido, which began in November 2018, finally was concluded in April. Weather systems that produced heavy seas in New Pass delayed the undertaking on several occasions, as the dredging equipment could not function in those conditions, city staff pointed out.

A February 2018 graphic shows how the five pennies of the Tourist Development Tax are allocated. Image courtesy Sarasota County

An Aug. 7 interoffice memo from Karen Lusk, a City of Sarasota accountant, to Kelly Strickland, the city’s finance director, explained that additional sand was available in New Pass when the dredging was underway for the project, so the decision was made to take more than the amount originally cited in the plans. “We were able to add 19,565.24 cubic yards of sand,” Lusk wrote, to help those especially vulnerable condominiums on the southern end of the shoreline.

In announcing the start of the emergency project, in early November 2018, city staff pointed out that the State of Florida and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) were covering part of the $3.9 million expense. The city’s cost was expected to be $600,000, staff noted, with money coming out of its Tourist Development Tax account.

The Nov. 7, 2018 city news release said the plans called for removal of about 185,000 cubic yards of sand from New Pass. In his April 5 newsletter, City Manager Tom Barwin reported that the total amount of sand used in the project was approximately 205,000 cubic yards. He added that the width of the renourished beach ranged from 40 to 80 feet.

A graphic created by Jono Miller, past director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College, shows the developments on Lido Key seaward of the 1948 vegetation line. He prepared the graphic for a January 2017 presentation by Save Our Siesta Sand 2 to members of the public. Image courtesy Jono Miller

In his Aug. 23 newsletter, he expanded on comments he made during the Aug. 19 City Commission meeting, when he talked about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) having cancelled the solicitation it published in May for bids for the long-range renourishment project on Lido Key Beach. The USACE is collaborating with the city on that initiative, with the understanding that the federal government would cover about 60% of the cost.

The bids came in far higher than the USACE had anticipated when it opened them on July 30, Barwin pointed out during the Aug. 19 City Commission meeting and in his newsletter at the end of the same week. “The Corps is rewriting the specifications of the bid and plans to have it back on the street within the next couple of weeks,” he added in the newsletter. The renourishment project still is “expected to begin by late fall,” he noted.

Two lawsuits — one in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and one in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida — are underway in an effort to prevent the removal of sand from Big Sarasota Pass for the long-range Lido initiative. Peter van Roekens of Siesta Key, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), has said his nonprofit would file for an emergency injunction to prevent the dredging of the pass if the USACE attempted to start the project before SOSS2’s federal lawsuit has been concluded.

Both SOSS2 and the Siesta Key Association long have expressed support for the renourishment of the Lido Key shoreline. However, they contend that the USACE’s modeling has been insufficient to prove that Siesta Key — and the pass itself — would be spared significant damage if up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand were removed from Big Pass, as the USACE proposed in the application for the permit it and the city received last year from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“So far,” Barwin continued in his Aug. 23 newsletter, “we’ve been fortunate this hurricane season, but we are well aware that a stalled thunderstorm can significantly erode our precious beach, which provides the essential protective barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and nearby infrastructure as well as habitat for our nesting wildlife.”

Barwin’s newsletter was published almost exactly a week before City and County of Sarasota leaders began focusing on forecasts for Hurricane Dorian’s path.