An open-house style meeting tentatively is set for Nov. 30; in the meantime, SOSS2 has sought clarification about the need for any county easements for the project
Editor’s note: This article was updated on the afternoon of Nov. 4 to correct a statement about FDEP notifying SOSS2 regarding the plan for the open-house style of meeting; FDEP also confirmed the date of the session after the News Leader’s deadline on Nov. 3.
Almost exactly a month ago, the chair of a nonprofit group opposed to the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass reported on a discussion he had had with representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) about his organization’s call for another public hearing on the proposed Lido Renourishment Project.
On Oct. 4, Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), told members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) that FDEP recently had announced that it would be issuing a notice by Dec. 27 of its intent to deny or issue a permit for the joint City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal for Lido. Therefore, he said, FDEP would have to conduct the hearing prior to late December.
SOSS2’s focus, van Roekens explained, is the fact that the state must grant the necessary sovereign easements if FDEP decides to issue the permit that will lead to the dredging of about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass to replenish South Lido’s severely eroded beach. SOSS2 wanted a public airing of that issue.
SOSS2 has argued that Section 253.034 of the Florida Statutes contains the provision that all state-owned lands “shall be managed to provide for areas of natural resource based recreation, and to ensure the survival of plant and animal species and the conservation of finite and renewable natural resources.”
Furthermore, a letter van Roekens sent in November 2015 to the members of the state Cabinet points to criteria for activities in a body of water protected as an Outstanding Florida Water, as Big Pass is.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet comprise the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, which has to grant easements regarding the state’s sovereign lands.
On Nov. 1, as SKVA members held their most recent monthly meeting, van Roekens reported that he had learned that FDEP recently and tentatively had proposed to the City of Sarasota that an “open house” be held on Nov. 16 regarding the Lido project. Van Roekens told The Sarasota News Leader that the FDEP manager overseeing the Lido application — Greg Garis — had advised him of that plan.
Because Nov. 16 would not work for SOSS2 representatives, van Roekens said during the SKVA meeting this week, he talked with FDEP staff about a later date. The response, he continued, was that the session probably would be held on Nov. 29 or 30. Late on Nov. 3, van Roekens told the News Leader that Garis had confirmed the session would be on Nov. 30, and the location probably will be the meeting room of the Sarasota County Fire Department station on Waldemere Street in Sarasota.
He also had learned from FDEP, he said during the SKVA meeting, that the open house format will entail “stations” where state subject matter experts will be able to talk with interested persons. “Obviously,” van Roekens pointed out, “that’s not a public hearing.”
SOSS2 had sought the latter format, he added, because FDEP staff members’ answers to questions could be heard by all those in the audience. Therefore, SOSS2 is hoping members of the news media will accompany them to each station to hear their questions and the answers state staff gives them, he said.
Yet another issue SOSS2 is researching pertinent to the Lido Renourishment Project regards whether the city or Sarasota County has jurisdiction of an area in Big Pass proposed for dredging, van Roekens told the SKVA members on Nov. 1.
SOSS2 has requested a “chart or map of the area that the county’s responsible for in Big Pass,” he added. “Apparently, one doesn’t exist,” he said, so county staff is working on that.
In March and again in June, SOSS2 board members corresponded by email with Laird Wreford, Sarasota County’s coastal initiatives manager, in regard to city and county jurisdiction in coastal waters, but Wreford provided no definitive response, according to emails obtained by the News Leader.
On Oct. 27, van Roekens tried again to resolve the matter by sending Wreford another email, noting, “[I]t has become a pressing matter to determine the City and County jurisdiction in Big Pass.”
A day later, Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, sought clarification of what van Roekens was seeking. Van Roekens replied, “[W]e all need to have a map/chart which shows what parts of [Sarasota] Bay and [the] Gulf [of Mexico] are the responsibility of the County.”
On Oct. 30, Osterhoudt replied, “Section 7.56, Florida Statutes, defines the boundaries of Sarasota County, including its waters. Article II, Section 1(a) of the Florida Constitution defines the state boundaries. From the Gulf of Mexico coastline, the state boundaries extend out three leagues. There are other laws governing territorial waters which include jurisdiction limitations, including the federal Submerged Lands Act of 1953 and the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. At this time, I am not aware of a map depicting the above with specific accuracy.”
On Oct. 31, van Roekens explained in a follow-up email that the nonprofit organization specifically wanted to know whether the county had approved an easement for what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has termed “Cut C” as part of the USACE/city dredging plan for Big Pass. “Once we have a map/chart of the area that is the County’s responsibility we can determine what further questions make sense,” van Roekens added.
In a further exchange on Nov. 1, van Roekens replied to Osterhoudt that he is aware that sovereign submerged lands waters are owned by the state “unless any of these waters have been deeded to the County.” Van Roekens continued, “However we believe the County is the regulatory body not the City or State which is why the map/chart is important.”
Van Roekens provided a copy of a map he had downloaded from MapTechnica, showing the boundaries of Sarasota County.
No further response from staff was provided to the News Leader prior to its deadline this week.