Hurricane Idalia damage in unincorporated parts of Sarasota County estimated at close to $2.7 million

Public Works director explains flooding issues on St. Armands Key

This is damage to Manasota Key Road, caused by Hurricane Idalia. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

The preliminary residential damage estimate for the unincorporated areas of Sarasota County in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia is $2,648,847, Sarasota County staff reported in a Sept. 1 news release.

Steve Drewing, the county’s investigations supervisor in the Licensing & Enforcement section of the Building Division, noted in an email to county Emergency Management staff that damage to commercial property was put at $35,750.

The Sarasota News Leader obtained a copy of Drewing’s report and related emails through a public records request.

Very few structures were destroyed or suffered major problems, as noted on a graph in one of the emails.

Drewing’s information was to be relayed to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, as indicated in an email exchange with Dennis O’Hara, a county emergency management officer. O’Hara had requested the estimate by 10 a.m. on Sept. 1, so he could forward it to state officials.

In response to a News Leader request this week for a copy of the assessment of shoreline damage that county Environmental Protection staff undertakes following a storm, Public Records personnel responded just before noon on Sept. 6: “Staff is out still completing this report — road damage on Manasota Key [Road] has made it difficult to get to locations to complete the report.”

As the News Leader noted in its Sept. 1 issue, Jamie Carson, director of the Communications Department had pointed out, “Roughly 1,600 [feet, or 0.3 miles] of [Manasota Key Road] is damaged. The location … is between 6780 Manasota Key Road and Blind Pass Park.”

A post on the county government’s Facebook page on Sept. 6 said, “#SRQCounty is working to secure contractors to remove debris and rebuild Manasota Key Road north of Blind Pass Park where it was washed out by Hurricane Idalia.”

On Sept. 1, in response to an email from County Commission Chair Ron Cutsinger, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis did note that Turtle Beach suffered erosion as a result of Idalia’s effects. Lewis added that he had visited the area on Aug. 31.

Turtle Beach was part of the focus of the county’s South Siesta Key Beach Repair Project, which was concluded before the end of June.

This Aug. 31 photo shows erosion at Turtle Beach Park. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

In its Sept. 1 news release, county staff provided the following information, as well:

“Many boardwalks and docks throughout Sarasota County will need to be replaced,” including those at Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center in Englewood and Caspersen Beach in Venice.

As of that day, 16 Sarasota County parks were closed because of unsafe conditions, including the south side of North Jetty Park in Nokomis. ”Visit the Park Status Report for the current conditions of county parks, preserves and beaches,” the news release said.

This is a sample from the Park Status Report on Sept. 7. Images courtesy Sarasota County

Further, staff reported that Casey Key Road was passable, but Sarasota County staff was asking the public “to use extreme caution.”

Additionally, the release noted, “Damage assessments show the overall amount of vegetative and construction and demolition (C&D) debris was limited,” so staff would not be activating its debris contractors for curbside collections of materials in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.

“All items placed curbside must be properly prepared,” the release pointed out.

“Place yard waste (small branches, leaves, moss, etc.) in containers, paper bags or bundles and place them at the curb for pickup,” the release added. “Items that are bundled or in containers should not exceed 4 feet in length, and items that are in paper bags, containers, or bundles should not exceed 40 pounds,” it continued. “This applies to both garbage and yard waste.

“To schedule a bulk collection,” the release said, “contact Waste Management at 941-493-4100 or work with a contractor to prepare and dispose of debris.”

Beach cleaning update

On Sept. 2, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR), did provide Lewis and Assistant County Administrator Brad Johnson a general update on beach conditions, via email.

At 6:18 p.m., she wrote, “PRNR has completed damage assessments for impacts from marine debris and seaweed at all Sarasota County managed beaches following Hurricane Idalia. Coordination with FDEP [Florida Department of Environmental Protection] and Mote Marine for recovery efforts are underway including attempting to get clearance to the beaches [for use of] heavy equipment. At this time, heavy equipment [ such as tractors and beach rakes] is not permitted on the beaches until the locations of all sea turtle nests present prior to the storm have been inspected and the remaining nests marked by Mote Marine. It is anticipated that these efforts will take through Monday, September 4th to complete.”

She added, “Routine and special condition mechanical beach cleaning or raking has been suspended until required approvals from Mote and [FDEP] are provided. Upon approval PRNR will follow the Board of County Commissioners approved Special Condition Beach Cleaning Policy for use of heavy equipment on the public beaches managed by Sarasota County. PRNR will continue to monitor the public beaches and remove smaller debris by hand.”

Rissler continued, “It is also important to note that a significant accumulation of seaweed has been identified to the south of Siesta Public Beach but a large portion is above the wrack line and on private property. Based on our Special Condition Beach Cleaning Policy this is not an area that the County would clean. The private condo association or homeowner can apply for a beach cleaning permit with [FDEP] and then have a private contractor clean [the areas] once the permit has been received.”

This is a photo showing seaweed on Siesta Beach on Sept. 2. It was included in the email that PRNR Director Nicole Rissler sent to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

The Sept. 1 county news release pointed out, “Seaweed that has washed up is beneficial to the beaches. It’s what shorebirds feed on, it serves as protection for small marine animals,” including sea turtle hatchlings, “and it protects sand, keeping it on area beaches.”

In a Sept. 5 email, County Administrator Lewis wrote the commissioners to give them details about public assistance provided by the county’s Call Center during the period of the hurricane’s impact. (The Call Center is reached by dialing 311. That number also handles calls from county Public Utilities Department customers, he reminded the commissioners.)

The information came from Carson in Communications, Lewis added:

“Our County’s 311 Team supported 5,084 callers [last] week.

“On Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 29-30, our service levels were above 99%. That means there was zero wait time for our community members calling the county’s 311 Team.

“To put into perspective, there was an average of a 45-minute wait for Utilities Customer Service during the initial days of Hurricane Ian according to the 311 Manager. That same group, now a part of the 311 Team, was able to improve their service levels in less than a year during a similar scenario.

“Additionally, our newest 311 Team members from Public Utilities are now taking general 311 calls when service levels permit. This new process proved very successful for our community during the storm.”

Flooding on St. Armands key issue in city of Sarasota

During the regular meeting of the Sarasota City Commission on Sept. 5, Deputy City Manager Pat Robinson told the board members, “All your crews were out there very quickly” after Idalia passed by the county in the Gulf of Mexico.

They were taking care of downed trees, for example, and electrical issues, Robinson indicated. Staff also was working to remove boats that had blown ashore on city property, he said.

Given the damage and concerns on St. Armands Key, Chris Goglia, president of the St. Armands Residents Association, sent out email to members on Sept. 4, noting that many of the businesses on St. Armands Circle were flooded, along with at least two homes.

As the News Leader also reported last week, St. Armands Circle was so flooded on Aug. 30 that the City of Sarasota first prohibited drivers on the Ringling Causeway bridge. It was not until 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 31 that the city finally reopened St. Armands Circle to all drivers.

This is a still from a Sarasota Police Department video shot on St. Armands Circle on the morning of Aug. 30. Image courtesy Sarasota Police Department

Goglia included in his report information from Sarasota County Emergency Management, which said all of the pumping stations on St. Armands became inoperable because their electrical control panels were submerged in the flooding.

County staff was developing a timeline for repairs, that document added. In the meantime, it said, portable pumping systems were “being strategically deployed around the island to provide an adequate level of flood control.”
That update emphasized, “[N]o pumping system would have prevented … flooding given the conditions of the storm.”

In a follow-up email to Association members, dated Sept. 5, Goglia wrote, “I’m learning about more and more homes on St. Armands that were completely flooded. The Northeast quadrant of St. Armands around the parking garage seems to have been particularly hard hit.”

He quoted former St. Armands Residents Association President Bill Rex, who had written, “The combination of rain, full moon and the hard side of [the] hurricane combined to be a ‘hundred year storm’ for St. Armands.”

Then Goglia provided information that he had received from Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department:

  • “The flooding was caused by roughly 3 feet of storm surge on top of the high tides with westerly winds from Hurricane Idalia.
  • “The stormwater pumping system’s electrical system was submerged by the flood waters making the system inoperable. Once the flooding receded to a level when roadways could be accessed, County teams mobilized temporary pumping solutions to fully draw down the flood waters.
  • “The stormwater system will drain with gravity flow as long as the tidal condition isn’t higher than the outfall. In this situation, the tide/surge was too high so the island could not drain by gravity.
  • “The County and City have an Interlocal Agreement for the County to maintain the City’s public stormwater infrastructure. The St. Armands stormwater system is part of the City’s public stormwater infrastructure.
  • “The large majority, if not all, of the stormwater/drainage outfalls on St Armands have been constructed or retrofitted with backflow prevention devices. These devices are necessary to ensure the pumping system is not constantly pumping seawater during high tides.
  • “We are evaluating options for raising the electrical control panels.
  • “The stormwater pumping system was specifically designed to protect the island for rainfall events not expected to coincide with a tidal/surge event that would result in overtopping of the island’s seawall system. Once the seawalls are overtopped a pumping system cannot overcome the volume of water coming over the seawalls. Unless the seawalls can be raised, adding capacity/capability to the pumping system is not anticipated to provide a significantly greater level of flood protection.”