Grant still secure for Siesta stormwater project

Sarasota County officials have planned the new stormwater project at Siesta Public Beach to eliminate the potential for runoff to deposit high levels of unhealthful bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The $975,000 grant the Southwest Florida Water Management District awarded Sarasota County for the stormwater project planned at Siesta Public Beach “is fine at this time,” Sarasota County Project Manager Curtis R. Smith told The Sarasota News Leader today, June 22.

County staff is continuing to work through the permitting process with both state officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Smith added, but SWFWMD is being kept up-to-date on that.

Another progress report was due by the end of the day today, he said.

The project is designed to eliminate the build-up of bacteria from runoff into the Gulf of Mexico that could lead to unsafe swimming conditions.

The total estimated cost of the project is $1.5 million, Smith said. According to terms of the grant, SWFWMD would pay for up to 50% of the cost of construction, with $975,000 set as the maximum amount.

Early this year, county staff agreed to hold off on the start of construction of the new stormwater pond at Siesta Public Beach until after the July Fourth holiday. That decision was made to ensure the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce could continue to use the site of the old ball field at the beach for guest parking for its VIP picnic. Sales of tickets for that event help cover the $35,000 cost of the fireworks.

Smith confirmed June 22 that the project still would get under way no earlier than July 7, but “probably a little bit later.” He added, “We’re working on revising the schedule right now … We don’t have the date firmly fixed.”

Construction is expected to be complete about six months after it begins, he said, including the resolution of any “punch list” details.

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association, had expressed concern during the June 7 SKA meeting that the county still did not have all the permits in place for the stormwater project. She pointed out that county staff had told her that if the work did not begin by Aug. 1, the county would lose the SWFWMD funds.

After consulting with Carolyn Eastwood, who has taken on oversight of the stormwater project from Spencer Anderson, Smith told the News Leader that SWFWMD officials would let county staff know at any point if they were not willing to extend the period for use of the grant.

(Anderson has been promoted to general manager of field services in the Operations and Maintenance division of the county’s Public Works Department.)

“It’s very difficult to tell exactly how long the permitting timeline is going to be” on this type of project, Smith said.

Part of the delay in the permitting process was related to changes in location and configuration for the pond, he pointed out.

Members of the homeowners association at the Gulf and Bay Club, which is adjacent to the beach park, had objected to the original site plan for the pond. That issue was resolved successfully last year, Smith noted.

In a June 14 email to Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, Smith said he expected to have the stormwater project’s design drawings at the 60% completion mark within four to five weeks.

On June 22, he told the News Leader, “We’re working through our final details on our design drawings and specifications.”

This version of the site plan for the Siesta Public Beach improvements, provided by Sarasota County staff, is about 30% complete.