County staff is awaiting the initial draft while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to respond within two weeks to a state request for more details about its dredging permit application
This week Sarasota County staff expected to receive the initial draft of a third-party peer review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ June 2014 report regarding the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Meanwhile, City of Sarasota staff is awaiting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ response to a Request for Additional Information (RAI) from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding the application the Army Corps submitted in March of this year to obtain a permit to remove sand from Big Pass. Both Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw and Lt. Col. Susan J. Jackson (U.S. Army Reserve), spokeswoman for the Army Corps at its district office in Jacksonville, told the News Leader they expect that response to be delivered to the state within the next two weeks. The project is a joint effort of the city and the Army Corps.
Laird Wreford, coastal resources manager for Sarasota County, said in a Sept. 1 interview that the firm the county hired to undertake the peer review, Atkins, was to deliver the document to staff on Sept. 3, according to a timeline established for the process. “We’re pretty much expecting it anytime now,” Wreford added. “I have not heard from Atkins that they are running behind.”
Atkins, which has an office in Sarasota, is being paid $49,620 for the work. The firm was on a list already vetted by the county Procurement Department for such undertakings, so no formal bid process was pursued. The County Commission had set $50,000 as the upper limit for payment.
Wreford told the News Leader on Sept. 1 that the timeline agreed to with Atkins calls for county staff to conduct an internal review of the draft document, allowing for suggestions for clarifications, for example, or the addition of more information. That should take about 10 days, he continued. After Atkins receives the county’s response, Wreford said, the agreement calls for Atkins to deliver the revised document within a week. Therefore, Wreford pointed out, the final version of the peer review should be completed by Sept. 20.
The County Commission’s unanimous vote on Aug. 20, 2014, called for staff to hire an independent firm to analyze how the proposed renourishment project might affect Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key, which the county owns, and to ascertain whether the dredging of Big Pass would have any impact on Siesta Key’s beaches or navigation in the waterway.
The Army Corps has called for 95,000 cubic yards of sand to be removed from three areas of Big Pass for the first renourishment of Lido under a 50-year plan. The original proposal, first presented to the county’s Coastal Advisory Committee in September 2013, called for 1.2 million cubic yards of sand.
Before she stepped down from the board last year because of term limits, County Commissioner Nora Patterson reminded her colleagues and the public on numerous occasions that Big Pass never has been dredged and that the public has fought previous proposals calling for such action.
In its March 2015 application to the FEDP, the Army Corps also proposes to construct two groins on Lido Key to help hold the sand in place after the dredging. A third groin, originally planned in the area of Sperling Park, is no longer part of the project, according to the materials the Army Corps submitted.
Regarding the RAI: DavisShaw told the News Leader on Sept. 1 that her experience with FDEP permitting matters led her to believe the state agency probably will request at least one more set of additional information after it receives the initial response from the Army Corps. Even with two emergency projects on which she worked with the Army Corps, she noted, FDEP staff ended up making three requests for more details.
“You would expect there would be anywhere from two to five RAIs,” Wreford said.
In response to a question from the News Leader this week, Dee Ann Miller, who works in the FDEP Press Office, explained that the Army Corps has until Oct. 15 to respond fully to the RAI No. 1 or request an extension. After the state receives the information, she wrote in an email, FDEP has 30 days to determine whether the application is complete or whether the department needs to issue another RAI. After an application has been deemed complete, she continued, the FDEP has up to 90 days to take final action — either issuing a Notice of Intent to Issue the permit or a Notice of Intent to Deny it. If anyone wishes to challenge the FDEP decision, Miller noted, the period for such action is within 14 days of the publication of the notice.
Three organizations already have indicated a legal challenge if the FDEP agrees to award the dredging permit for Big Pass: Save Our Siesta Sand 2, Suncoast Waterkeeper and the Florida Wildlife Federation. Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), based on Siesta Key, has been seeking contributions over the past 18 months in the event a lawsuit is necessary, members have told the News Leader.
As for funding for the $19 million project, Jackson at the Jacksonville Army Corps Office wrote in an email this week that Congress has not allocated any money at this point. “Having the [FDEP] permit in hand will help expedite the critical work once the project is funded,” she added.
Congress no longer earmarks funding for such projects, DavisShaw told the News Leader. The necessary money tends to come in the form of federal grants, she added.
While state grant funds and county Tourism Development Tax revenue will cover a portion of the expense, the Army Corps has said federal money will be needed for about 62 percent of the cost.
Application and response
The Army Corps of Engineers submitted its permit application to the FDEP on March 16 for the Lido Renourishment Project. On March 30 of this year, Col. Alan Dodd, a district engineer for the U.S. Army, provided a letter saying he had reviewed the Army Corps’ Environmental Assessment (EA) regarding the plans to dredge the ebb shoal of Big Pass for sand to place on Lido Key. Dodd concluded “the proposed action will have no significant impact on the quality of the human environment.” He further determined that no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was necessary. An EIS is considered to be a much more complete review than an EA of the potential ramifications of a project, community critics have pointed out.
In a May 14 letter to the Army Corps at its Jacksonville District office, Justin Bloom, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, writing for his nonprofit organization and Save Our Siesta Sand 2, pointed out that both repeatedly had called for a full EIS. He added that such an undertaking would be appropriate given the proposed dredging project’s size, 50-year duration, potential impacts and “proximity to Siesta Key, one of [the] premier, if not the premier, beach in the United States …”
Bloom wrote that the plan of the Army Corps and the City of Sarasota to dredge Big Pass “has raised immediate concerns about Sarasota committing to a 50 year plan to dredge enough sand to bury the Empire State Building four times over …”
Bloom further pointed out that the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, “one of the foundations of our environmental laws, demands rigorous and objective analysis of a proposed project’s environmental and community impacts, as well as alternatives to the project proposal that lead to informed, realistic governmental decision making.”
In its permit application to the FDEP, the Army Corps wrote that the level at which sand has been lost on Lido Key has resulted in the State of Florida classifying the beach as “critically eroded.”
“Approximately 3,200 feet of the shoreline within the project area is developed beachfront park and represents multi-million dollar public investment,” the application continues.
“The beach nourishment and groin construction project will result in storm protection for both public and private interests,” it adds. “Several hotels and large condominium residences lie within the project limits and will derive storm protection” from the project, the application says. “The proposed beach project will protect the properties which are major contributors to the local tax base,” the application points out.
RAI No. 1
In its 19-page Request for Additional Information No. 1, FDEP staff referenced 37 facets of the Army Corps’ application. Among the sections for which it sought more details were those covering the following:
- Volume of material that would be removed from Big Pass and from New Pass. (The Army Corps has proposed alternating use of dredge material from the two sites every five years.)
- Discrepancies in the details provided about the dredging process itself.
- The need for “construction and design templates that minimize impacts to marine turtles.”
- Clarification about whether the renourishment of Lido Key Beach every five years over the life of the project is designed to create a 200-foot-wide shoreline each time, because erosion is expected to diminish the width to 80 feet by the end of each five-year period.
- Further details about the impacts on seagrass in the borrow areas.
- A “biological monitoring plan that provides reasonable assurance that the current condition of all natural communities that may be impacted by the project will be thoroughly characterized prior to and following construction, and that any potential impacts to resources will be documented …”
- The necessity of the Army Corps receiving approval from the Division of Historical Resources (DHR) within the Florida Department of State, because “There are 23 anomalies identified in the vicinity of the borrow areas. … Furthermore, DHR has indicated that the anomalies and targets are potentially significant historic zones, and should be avoided during construction ….”