With Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix postponed indefinitely from late June, dredging of Big Pass potentially could begin sooner than July 6, Army Corps of Engineers indicates
The company hired to handle the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project has taken the necessary steps to use a staging area in Sarasota County’s Ted Sperling Park on the southern end of Lido, Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw has informed city leaders.
Last year, Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch told the County Commission that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had estimated that if the contractor could use the park site, the overall cost of the Lido initiative could be reduced by approximately $1 million.
In related news this week, The Sarasota News Leader learned from a USACE spokesman that, because of the indefinite postponement of the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass potentially could begin sooner than July 6.
David Ruderman, public information officer for the USACE at its Jacksonville District Office, indicated that the federal agency’s project team had just received information this week about the revised Grand Prix plans. A Jan. 24 revision to the solicitation package the USACE published in December 2019 for the Lido project noted that the Grand Prix Festival would be held at Lido Beach from June 20-28. “The Contractor shall make all necessary and reasonable efforts to minimize impacts to the event,” the revision said. At that time, the COVID-19 pandemic was not a factor in the United States.
The boat races originally were scheduled for June 26-28. (See the related article in this issue.)
On March 19, the USACE awarded the Lido project contract to Cottrell Contracting Corp. of Chesapeake, Va. The company’s bid was $12,688,582, Ruderman told the News Leader.
Plans call for the removal of up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from two borrow areas in Big Pass, which lies between Lido and Siesta keys. The solicitation package said 710,000 cubic yards of that sand would be placed on about 1.56 miles of Lido Beach.
The City of Sarasota and the USACE were co-applicants for the necessary Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for the initiative.
In a May 6 response to News Leader questions about the Sperling Park staging area, Ruderman explained that the USACE had no information about that.
“The contractor (Cottrell) is directly engaged with the City of Sarasota (the non-federal sponsor, or NFS) to go through any necessary steps to use the park for the project,” Ruderman wrote in an email. “This is authorized in the contract between Jacksonville District and Cottrell to execute the project which specifically allows for the contractor to obtain additional staging and access permissions.”
On May 1, DavisShaw forwarded to city administrative staff copies of emails regarding the use of Sperling Park. “The Contractor added the County as an additional insured and this insurance info has been provided to the County,” she wrote.
“They are good with that so we are pretty close to being able to use the south access. This is quite helpful for the turtle mitigation. Turtle monitoring has started and tomorrow relocations will begin, as needed.”
Sea turtle nesting season officially began on May 1. The FDEP permit allows for sand placement during the nesting season, but it requires the monitoring that DavisShaw mentioned.
Replying to DavisShaw’s news, City Manager Tom Barwin wrote on the night of May 1, “Great News. Thanks.”
The two emails DavisShaw forwarded to city administrative staff were from William D. Motherway, the county’s risk manager, and Matt Arendall, the city’s risk manager.
Arendall had written to Motherway, saying, “I wanted to reach out to you and confirm the attached Certificate of Insurance and Endorsement verbiage is acceptable as the City and County have an agreement to allow [the contractor] to use an access in Ted Sperling Park provided the contractor has the required insurance and names the County as an additional insured.”
Arendall added, “Since this is a final item pending approval for this project, could you please review and confirm back to me by next Friday, May 8, 2020?”
Motherway replied on May 1: “I just took another look at the Agreement between the City and County. We are all good with the AI [additional insured] on the Insurance Cert.”
On Jan. 31, city and county officials formally executed the Sperling Park agreement, which pointed out that the USACE solicitation documents did not require the general contractor for the Lido project to maintain a general liability insurance policy while construction is underway.
However, the agreement noted, the USACE solicitation package “did not prohibit the general contractor selected for the Project from maintaining a policy of general liability insurance.” Therefore, the document said, the county would require that the contractor have such a policy, “which shall be in effect during the term of this Agreement.” That policy must name the county “as an additional insured and be provided by an insurance carrier licensed to conduct business in the State of Florida that possesses a current A.M. Best’s Financial Strength Rating of A-Class VII or better.”
Moreover, the document called for the staging area to be “restored to its original or better condition upon the expiration of this Agreement,” and that work is to be completed “on or before May 31, 2021.”
Shawn Yeager, manager of the Beaches and Water Accesses Division of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, told the News Leader on May 7 that proof of the insurance coverage was provided to Sarasota County Risk Management on May 1.
During discussions late last year, county commissioners voiced concern that if a contractor left damage in Sperling Park, the county might have difficulty pursuing a remedy. Eventually, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis won board approval — on a 4-1 vote — to work with County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht to draft and execute the agreement with the city to make the park staging possible. Commissioner Michael Moran cast the “No” vote.
Both Lewis and Elbrecht signed the agreement on behalf of the county, while Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and City Attorney Robert Fournier signed it on behalf of the city.
In response to a News Leader request for any other details about the staging plans, DavisShaw replied in a May 7 email: “[T]ere are some requirements on usage [of Sperling Park] such as hours when trucks can arrive and fencing of the area.” Further, she added, “I need to relocate a few palm trees for the access point into the entry drive.”
The Jan. 31 agreement calls for the city to pay for the removal of “the minimum number of palm trees” necessary to create the temporary access to the park for deliveries. The agreement adds that the city “shall complete and file the application for a tree removal permit and shall pay the application and permit fees,” but it also says the county “shall sign the application for tree removal.”
Project timeline update
In his May 6 email exchanges with the News Leader, Ruderman of the USACE also reported that representatives of the Jacksonville District Office and the contractor “are scheduled to hold a pre-construction meeting or call on May 27. This is a standard practice to review various operational issues, timelines, monitoring, etc., etc.”
“As of today,” Ruderman continued, “contractor is expected to begin dredging operations … on or about July 6 with the usual caveats of weather or other impacts to the contractor’s schedule.”
Subsequently, after learning of the changed situation regarding the powerboat races, Ruderman told the News Leader that it might be possible for Cottrell to get an earlier start.
Ruderman also confirmed that the construction of two groins on South Lido, to try to hold the sand in place between subsequent renourishment projects, “is planned to take place over the winter months.”
He earlier had told the News Leader that the project manager for the USACE had indicated the groin work likely would begin in January 2021 and be completed by May 2021.
SKA dealing with another delay in appeal
In the meantime, the leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) learned on May 7 of another delay in their appeal involving litigation against the City of Sarasota to try to prevent the dredging of Big Pass.
John R. Herin Jr., a partner in the Miami firm of Fox Rothschild, and Kevin S. Hennessy, an attorney with Lewis, Longman & Walker in St. Petersburg, filed a motion on May 7, seeking a second extension of time to file their responses to the SKA’s initial brief to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal.
Hennessy represents the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), which was allowed to intervene in the case the SKA originally pursued in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of Appeal.
After a Circuit Court judge ruled against the SKA last year, the nonprofit’s board decided to petition for the Court of Appeal to hear the case.
The SKA has contended that the city has not followed its own policies or Sarasota County policies and regulations in the plans for removal of sand from Big Pass.
Herin and Hennessy pointed out in their motion that their offices had been “shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and [they] were required to work remotely. This has created challenges in coordinating with clients, staff and co-counsel.”
Previously, the court had granted an extension to April 6 for the city’s and the LKRA’s responses; then, after another petition for delay, the court pushed out the deadline to May 8.
The latest request calls for the reply briefs to be filed on June 8.
“This Motion is made in good faith and not intended to cause undue delay to any of the parties,” Herin and Hennessy wrote.
In a May 7 email to Sarasota County staff, including County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and Environmental Protection Manager Rachel Herman, Robert Luckner, an SKA director, noted the development in the appeal.
“Proceeding [with the Lido project] without the resolution of this lawsuit appeal is wrong,” Luckner wrote. “Thank you for your consideration.”
Thus far, the county commissioners have declined to become involved in the SKA case.
Federal litigation also is pending in an effort to preserve Big Pass in its natural state. The nonprofit Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) filed a lawsuit against the USACE in January 2019, contending that the federal agency had violated the Clean Water Act and other federal policies in planning for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.
Although the final documents in that case were filed in December 2019, no ruling has been issued. SOSS2 leaders have declined to comment to the News Leader on the potential for the dredging to get underway later this spring or summer.
While the USACE has been steadfast in asserting that no harm will come to the pass — or to Siesta Key — from the Lido project, many Siesta residents are fearful of irreparable damage to the waterway and, possibly, severe erosion on the northern part of Siesta Key. The pass never has been dredged.