Federal agency seeking state help to speed up timeline for completing Lido Renourishment Project application

County staff renews request for state and City of Sarasota responses to county’s peer review of the project plans

Big Sarasota Pass lies between Lido and Siesta keys. Image from Google maps
Big Sarasota Pass lies between Lido and Siesta keys. Image from Google maps

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) told The Sarasota News Leader this week that the federal agency still is working on its response to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s second request for information (RAI2) about the proposal by the City of Sarasota and the USACE to renourish Lido Key Beach.

Lt. Col. Susan J. Jackson (U.S. Army Reserve) wrote the News Leader in a Jan. 12 email that the USACE sent Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) staff members a draft of its response before the holiday season began “and will wait for their input prior to submitting our final response. This will help us ensure that another [Request for Additional Information] RAI is not required.”

In response to a News Leader inquiry, Dee Ann Miller, an FDEP spokeswoman, wrote in a Jan. 12 email, “We have received supplemental information provided by the Corps and anticipate our review of that information to be done sometime around the beginning of February.”

Under FDEP guidelines, the USACE and the city have up to six months from the time the RAI2 was issued — Oct. 7, 2015 — to provide all the documentation the FDEP is seeking.

In the meantime, Sarasota County staff is continuing to reach out to the City of Sarasota and FDEP to obtain comments on the peer review the county commissioned regarding the city and USACE plans to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach, County Administrator Tom Harmer told the County Commission during its regular meeting on Jan. 12 in Venice.

A Jan. 6 memo to the board from Tom Polk, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services office; and Matt Osterhoudt, senior manager in Planning and Development Services, said the responses are expected from the city “and/or FDEP” within about 30 days. After they are received, the memo continues, “staff will prepare another status update report for the Board,” and staff “will be moving forward” with scheduling a presentation to the commissioners.

County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo
County Administrator Tom Harmer. File photo

On Jan. 12, Harmer pointed out that the county has had numerous inquiries from the public about such a presentation since the peer review was completed in October.

The memo explained, “This is consistent with the Atkins contract that contains a line item for [the firm] to present the final report to the Board.”

The county’s $49,620 contract with Atkins, which has a Sarasota office, provides for the team that undertook the peer review to offer comments to the County Commission during a board meeting.

Correspondence with FDEP

A News Leader search this week of FDEP records on the Lido Renourishment Project found a Nov. 18 email from Paul J. Karch of the USACE to FDEP Environmental Specialist Chiu Cheng, asking whether the federal agency could use turbidity findings compiled during the last nourishment project on Lido Key as part of the RAI2 response. “I would like to use the data from the beach within one tidal cycle,” Karch added, “to determine the variability of the background …”

Karch provided a file showing data from the emergency nourishment of Lido Key Beach that the city undertook in 2015 to deal with severe erosion produced by Tropical Storm Debby in 2012. That material was collected between Jan. 17, 2015 and March 16, 2015, according to a document Karch submitted with his email.

This graphic shows the borrow areas proposed for the project. Image courtesy FDEP
This graphic shows the borrow areas proposed for the project. Image courtesy FDEP

Cheng responded that that turbidity data could not be used “to establish the natural background variability for the new Lido [Joint Coastal Permitting] application.”

Cheng added that the material for the emergency nourishment project “was dredged from the ebb tidal shoal of New Pass, and the data is not applicable for Big Sarasota Pass,” according to FDEP rules. Cheng continued, “Even if the material had been dredged from Big Sarasota Pass in that construction event, the data would still not likely qualify for use in the determination of the variability because those values are probably not [going to] be representative of natural background levels.”

FDEP staff had made almost the same point in the RAI2, referencing the USACE response to RAI1, which FDEP issued on April 15, 2015.

The RAI2 pointed out, “Pursuant to [a rule in the Florida Administrative Code], the natural background turbidity levels need to be measured through a normal tidal cycle for the specific sand dredging site.” [The emphasis is in the document.]

The RAI2 then offered directions for determining the background variability, including the need to “Sample as frequently as possible for the best representation of natural conditions and note the time of day for each sample.” The document added, “No averaging or pooling data from different locations/tidal cycles to obtain the ‘optimal’ variation.”

A related note

Peter van Roekens. File photo
Peter van Roekens. File photo

During the Jan. 5 meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), Peter van Roekens, a Siesta resident who represents the Terrace East condominium association at the merchants’ meetings, reported that Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) —which he serves as a board member — had sent its latest newsletter on the Lido Renourishment Project to city and county staff members. “There are questions that have not been answered or not answered satisfactorily” about the proposal, he said, though he did not offer any details about the questions.

He did hear from a city staff member who promised to try to get the USACE to provide those answers, he added.

SOSS2 is among the Siesta organizations that have been seeking more detailed documentation of the city/USACE proposal in fighting the proposal to dredge Big Pass.