Under state law, FDEP has 90 days from Sept. 28 to issue a notice about its intent; short window provided for legal action
On Sept. 30, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) notified the City of Sarasota that its staff had deemed the Lido Renourishment Project application to be complete as of Sept. 28.
The state department’s deadline for issuing its notice of intended action is Dec. 27, according to information FDEP Project Manager Gregory Garis provided Siesta Key Association (SKA) Second Vice President Catherine Luckner, which she shared with The Sarasota News Leader. By law, FDEP has 90 days from Sept. 28 to announce whether it plans to issue or deny the permit application for the renourishment of about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach. The project also includes the construction of two groins on South Lido to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments.
A day before the FDEP decision, the City of Sarasota won unanimous approval from the Manatee County Commission to mitigate damage or destruction of seagrass during the Lido project by planting seagrass in Manatee County’s Perico Preserve. The cost of that undertaking would be slightly less than $1 million, the News Leader has determined, based on documentation submitted to FDEP and Manatee County figures.
The City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) filed their application for the permit in March 2015. Siesta Key-based organizations have argued against the plan to dredge about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to place on Lido, though they have often vowed support for the renourishment of the barrier island itself.
Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) has been raising funds for a lawsuit to stop the proposed dredging, if FDEP announces it intends to issue the permit for the project. FDEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller has told the News Leader that if any entity opposes the department’s planned action, that group or person must act within 14 days of the publication of the notice of the intent.
Peter van Roekens, chair of SOSS2, has been pointing that out over the past months. During the Oct. 4 Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) meeting, van Roekens thanked all of those who had supported the nonprofit during the recent Giving Challenge organized through the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Nonetheless, he said, “We still have a substantial shortfall.”
Van Roekens and Siesta architect Mark Smith — chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the SKVA — have estimated S0SS2 will need about $250,000 if it has to pursue legal recourse.
Van Roekens also told SKVA members on Oct. 4 that he would put the odds at 99% that FDEP will announce its intent to issue the permit.
FDEP originally had an Aug. 31 deadline to announce its latest decision regarding the permit application. However, the City of Sarasota and the USACE had asked for a waiver until Oct. 1, to allow the department staff more time to review the latest material the USACE had submitted to FDEP late on Aug. 1.
Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw forwarded other city staff members an email she received from FDEP Project Manager Garis at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, announcing the FDEP news. Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown responded, “Now we wait for a decision.”
In the meantime, the Sarasota County Commission still is awaiting a response from the USACE to its Aug. 23 request that the federal agency withdraw its Finding of No Significant Impact in regard to the planning for the dredging of Big Pass and, instead, pursue an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal.
In response to a News Leader inquiry about the status of that answer, Susan J. Jackson, a spokeswoman for the USACE District Office in Jacksonville, wrote in an Oct. 3 email, “We are still drafting a response for the County. The team says they anticipate completing the response by the end of next week.”
Perico Preserve plan
On Sept. 27, Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department, appeared before the Manatee County Commission to discuss the City of Sarasota’s seagrass mitigation request.
“Seagrass is a protected plant in the state of Florida, [but] there are very few seagrass mitigation options,” he explained during the board’s regular meeting,
The county constructed the Perico Preserve, he pointed out, partly in response to that situation.
He further noted, “We weren’t interested in enabling or providing for mitigation for any private development.” The preserve was designed for public projects, only, he added.
A Manatee County staff memo provided in the folder for the commission’s Sept. 27 regular meeting says, “To recover approximately $4.3 million associated with the creation of seagrass habitat from uplands at Perico Preserve, the intent is to allow other government agencies to purchase the right to perform offsite seagrass mitigation at the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin for seagrass impacts associated with their projects elsewhere.”
The basin comprises 16.4 acres, the staff memo says. Seagrass mitigation habitat is proposed for 12.25 acres.
The memo notes that for the right to perform that mitigation, “the value of the acreage, as determined by Manatee County, shall be paid to the County prior to authorization of use. Manatee County will retain ownership of the property and become the long-term management entity upon release of monitoring and maintenance requirements imposed by regulatory agencies on the agency that will be achieving [its] mitigation needs at the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin.”
The cost per acre is $351,512.45, according to a table provided with the memo. In the Aug. 1 letter to FDEP — responding to its second request for additional information about the Lido application — CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure in Boca Raton, the USACE’s consultant assisting with the project, wrote that the city and the USACE proposed to plant a species of seagrass “within 2.8 acres” of the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin. Therefore, by the News Leader’s calculations, the cost to the city and the USACE will be $984,234.86.
The city’s Capital Improvement Program for 2017-2021 shows federal funding covering about 62 percent of the total cost of the $19-million renourishment project — $11,780,000 — with the rest of the funding split evenly between a state grant and Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for city renourishment efforts.
Jackson of the USACE told the News Leader via email that the project remains unfunded at the federal level. “We put in a funding request and will learn in February/March 2017 if we made the President’s Budget list for Fiscal Year 2018,” she wrote.
During a presentation to the Manatee County Commission on Sept. 27, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw formally requested that the board approve the seagrass mitigation plan.
“This is a homerun,” Commissioner Robin DiSabatino replied. She recently walked the Lido Beach, DiSabatino added. “I know that you are in need of renourishment there. … You’re helping us out at the same time.”
With no members of the public signed up to offer comments on the issue, Chair Vanessa Baugh asked for a motion. Commissioner Carol Whitmore made it, approving the city’s request; DiSabatino seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.
Baugh pointed out that the agreement “shows that we want to be partners; we want to be regional partners.”
The Manatee board then sent a letter to FDEP, noting the Sept. 27 vote was in response to the request from the City of Sarasota, which was made in a Sept. 21 letter from Mayor Willie Shaw.