FDEP awards $487,000 grant to City of Sarasota for wetlands project on Bobby Jones Golf Club property

Primary goal of initiative is to reduce nutrient load going into area waterways and then into Sarasota Bay

A graphic shows the 5,800-acre area — in yellow — whose stormwater runoff will be treated by the city’s water quality project. Image courtesy Southwest Florida Water Management District

On March 7, in unanimously approving their first Consent Agenda of routine business matters, the Sarasota city commissioners accepted a $487,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that will help pay for the creation of a wetlands project on the eastern side of the Bobby Jones Golf Club on Circus Boulevard.

The project area encompasses about 18.2 acres, city documents noted. Completion of the initiative is expected by the end of June 2023, according to materials provided to the commissioners in advance of the meeting. The grant is valid through Dec. 31, 2023, the state form says.

The city is not being required to match the grant, according to the agenda request form submitted by city Finance Director Kelly Strickland.

The funding will come from FDEP in the form of reimbursements for city expenses, the form pointed out.

The Grant Work Plan, which was included in the agenda packets for the city commissioners, explained that Sarasota Bay is an “Estuary of National Significance,” as well as an Outstanding Florida Water, “and a Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) Surface Water

Improvement and Management (SWIM) priority water body.” Limited opportunities exist to implement large-scale “upstream pollutant load treatment in the Bay’s mostly developed 150 square-mile drainage area,” the document pointed out.

This slide, shown on May 25 to the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board members, sums up the wetlands project. Image courtesy Southwest Florida Water Management District

“Reducing nutrient loading to bays and local waters is a statewide priority to reduce impacts from harmful algae and red-tide blooms, improve water quality, and promote healthy seagrasses and biodiverse ecosystems,” the Grant Work Plan continued. “Phillippi Creek is the largest tributary to Sarasota Bay with upstream canals contributing to the drainage of this basin. Running through the Bobby Jones property is Phillippi Main B canal and Branch BB canal — a tributary canal to Philippi Creek,” the plan noted.

The City of Sarasota will construct a wetlands system to which stormwater from nearly 10 square miles of land will be re-routed, the document said. Conservative calculations indicate the initiative will reduce the nitrogen load going into Sarasota Bay by an estimated 906 pounds per year; for phosphorous, the reduction is anticipated to be 336 pounds per year.

Moreover, the plan said, “This project will be a sustainable development model for the region and will be used to educate local, regional, national, and international visitors regarding water quality and Florida ecosystems.”

Further, completion of the initiative will provide habitat for wildlife such as birds, fish and reptiles, as well as “aquatic vegetation and other organisms.”

This February 2020 graphic shows the plans the City Commission approved for golf course restoration at Bobby Jones Golf Club and the wetlands project. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

In late May 2021, the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District agreed to award the city $1,511,535 for construction of the wetlands system. The city’s overall cost is expected to be $3,023,070, SWFMD staff noted at the time.

During a special meeting on Jan. 10, the city commissioners voted unanimously to execute a conservation easement over the entire 261-acre golf club property. City leaders are partnering with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, on that effort, which includes the water quality and drainage improvements for Bobby Jones Golf Club property.

A March 4 city newsletter noted, “This urban oasis is home to 70+ bird species plus many reptiles and mammals. We couldn’t be more proud of the legacy action taken by the City Commission to preserve the entire property for future generations of Sarasotans” through that partnership with the Foundation, the newsletter added.

Mayor Erik Arroyo addresses the crowd at the March 4 Bobby Jones Golf Club renovations groundbreaking event. Image courtesy City of Sarasota via Facebook

On a related point, city leaders gathered on March 4 to mark the official groundbreaking for the renovation of the historic Donald Ross holes at the Bobby Jones Golf Club and the creation of a new 9-hole, adjustable executive course.

The Ross holes are expected to be completed in November or December, city staff has pointed out. The executive course is anticipated “to open a couple of months later,” the March 4 city newsletter said.

On Jan. 10, the city commissioners also voted unanimously to approve a $12,513,599.05 contract with QGS Development of Plant City for the golf course work.