Hearing on challenges to dredging of Big Pass to begin on Dec. 12, administrative law judge rules

Parties in the case agreed on the new timeline after FDEP attorney sought delay because of an injury he incurred

Condominiums are easily visible across Big Pass on the evening of July 6. Rachel Hackney photo

The Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding on challenges to the proposed dredging of Big Sarasota Pass will be held in December, the parties agreed on Aug. 14.

A Notice of Hearing Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter issued in the case on Aug. 16 says the proceeding will be conducted Dec. 12 through Dec. 15 and on Dec. 18 and 19 in Sarasota. Each day, it will begin at 9 a.m., the notice adds.

A motion filed in the DOAH docket on Aug. 14 by Kirk S. White, assistant deputy general counsel with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), says the parties “conferred via telephone” that day to ascertain dates when they could be available for the hearing that was postponed from this month. The result was agreement that the proceeding “can be completed during the consecutive period between December 4th through December 19th, 2017,” that document says.

“The Parties further agree that in order to complete the Trial during [that] timeframe it may be necessary to present evidence ‘out of typical order,’” and they do not object to that, the document points out.

White filed a motion on Aug. 2, seeking a delay of at least eight weeks because he had to undergo surgery that was scheduled for Aug. 4. His full recovery would take about two months, he added, and necessitate “periodic doctor visits.”

The DOAH hearing was set to begin on Aug. 22 and conclude on Aug. 31 in Sarasota.

Canter, who was assigned to the case early this year, granted White’s motion and requested an alternative set of dates be determined prior to Aug. 18.

Waves crash against the wall of the pool area at a condominium complex on South Lido Key during a January storm. Photo contributed by Rob Wright

In late December 2016, FDEP announced its intention to issue a permit to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that would allow the dredging of about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a stretch of approximately 1.6 miles on the critically eroded South Lido Key Beach. As a result, three nonprofit organizations filed challenges to that dredging plan: Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF). All of them have been focused on potential damage to Siesta Key and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the proposed removal of sand from the pass.

The Sarasota News Leader found no motion in the case docket indicating that any of the parties contested the delay White had sought.

Nonetheless, Lido Key residents have continued to be anxious about their critically eroded shoreline. In a March 21 filing in the DOAH case, the attorney for the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA) — which Canter allowed to intervene in the hearing — argued for a hearing even before August.

Kevin S. Hennessy of the Lewis, Longman & Walker law firm in Bradenton pointed out that the association “is the party representing individuals directly affected by the delay in issuance of the pending beach renourishment permit. LKRA [residents’] property is suffering severe erosion that endangers their homes and businesses. The inability to [perform] beach renourishment during the 2016-2017 winter season is due to the delays occasioned by [the SKA, SOSS2 and FWF] in the permitting process,” he wrote in that March 21 document.

The most recent minutes posted on the LKRA website say that during the association’s April 15 meeting, members discussed the fact that they expected December 2018 would be the earliest the city/USACE renourishment project could begin.

This week, the News Leader asked Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw for an update on short-term initiatives to help stabilize Lido Beach, in the meantime. City staff is still working on options, she wrote in an Aug. 14 email. “Hopefully we’ll have more [information] in the next two weeks or so,” she added.

Like SOSS2 and the SKA, the Lido Key Residents Association has been raising funds to pay for its participation in the legal battle over the proposed dredging of Big Pass.