Manasota Key damage limited after Irma, but staff continuing to work on potential for a joint beach nourishment project with Charlotte County

Second survey of residents nets greater response rate, but a number object to helping pay for more sand

Part of the Manasota Key Road suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Irma’s passage through the area. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Even Manasota Key’s beach fared reasonably well during Hurricane Irma’s passage through the area, staff of Sarasota County’s Environmental Protection Division reported last week after comparing post-storm surveys to those undertaken before Irma struck.

Manasota Key residents have appeared before the County Commission numerous times over the past year to plead for help because of severe erosion on parts of the island.

The Sept. 13 report from county staff says, “With the eye of the storm tracking east of Sarasota County, our area experienced strong hurricane-force wind gusts in excess of 80 miles per hour and total rainfall over 10 inches. Although predicted at times to be as much as 6 to 10 feet as the storm approached our area,” the storm surge on beachfront properties was not significant, the report adds.

Photos show conditions before and after Irma at a property on Manasota Key. Images courtesy Sarasota County

The following findings were provided about Manasota Key:

  • Storm-driven waves and tidal currents have changed the beach profile at the public beach at Blind Pass Park, creating “a wide ‘tidepool channel’ between the dry sandy beach and the off-shore sandbar,” stretching for approximately 1 mile at that location.
  • A portion of Manasota Key Road (about 200 feet long) north of Blind Pass Park was undermined and damaged by waves. Damage to guardrail sections and asphalt was observed. “This section of road was barricaded and closed to through traffic.” County Public Works Department staff was addressing the issue, the report noted.
  • A portion of Manasota Key Road was flooded with 8 to 10 inches of water at the time of the assessment, from approximately 6260 Manasota Key Road north to the 6400 block of Manasota Key Road.
  • Recent efforts at 7110 Manasota Key Road to restore the dune with beach-compatible sand was washed out under the wooden deck and dune walkover structure. Minor damage to the walkover structure was observed.
  • All of the sites on Manasota Key that received sandbags following storm events in 2016 (6300 Manasota Key Road, 6780 to 6820 Manasota Key Road and 7160 Manasota Key Road) “did not experience further erosion impacts and the sandbags performed well.”
  • “Many sea turtle nests have been washed over and likely impacted by the storm. Several sea turtle egg shells were observed on the beach; however, some of those shell fragments may have been from previously hatched nests. Several nest stakes were noted to have had sand deposited over the nest (e.g., as noted by a smaller portion of stake visible).”
  • “Caspersen Beach experienced minor dune vegetation impacts near the boardwalk landward of the rocks,” the report said: A couple of palm trees came down and some sea oats were lost.

Adding sand to the Manasota Key shoreline

A graphic shows details about responses to the May survey of Manasota Key residents. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On May 18, Rachel Herman, manager of the Environmental Protection Division, explained to the county’s Tourist Development Council (TDC) that staff was conducting a second survey of Manasota Key property owners to determine their interest in a beach nourishment project and their willingness to be assessed to help cover the expense.

She told the TDC members — as staff also had reported to the County Commission — that Sarasota County has the opportunity to participate with Charlotte County on a project, with Charlotte County already having begun the necessary work to address concerns on its part of Manasota Key. Charlotte County staff hoped to get the initiative underway in the 2019 fiscal year, she said; its focus of shoreline is about 2 miles long.

The overall expense of the Charlotte County project was expected to be about $20 million, she noted. Sarasota County’s expense most likely would be the same.

Charlotte County planned to use Tourist Development Tax revenue and funds from the RESTORE Act to cover its engineering expenses, Laird Wreford, Sarasota County’s coastal initiatives manager, told the TDC members.

The RESTORE Act involves the BP settlement in the aftermath of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

If Sarasota County collaborated with Charlotte County on a Manasota Key project, Herman added, Sarasota County would benefit from engineering work that already has been completed. Furthermore, she explained, the likelihood of winning state and federal funding support for the project would increase if it were of a regional nature.

A chart provides results of the May survey. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Charlotte County shoreline, Herman said, “is pretty much hardened.” She added, “What’s unique about Manasota Key … is that sand constantly moves.”

In a June 30 report to the Sarasota County Commission, Herman and Matthew Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, summarized the results of both the original survey of the Manasota Key property owners in regard to erosion on the island — completed in January — and a second one, undertaken in May.

The first survey showed the greatest support for a nourishment project was in area closest to Charlotte County. “However, the response rate for the Gulf-front parcels in this area (referred to as Area 3) was 41%,” the report pointed out, adding that that was “not overwhelming.”

The subsequent survey of Area 3 property owners involved those whose homes were not on the Gulf as well as those whose homes were. That survey was expanded further, the report said, “to include 33 properties affiliated with Area 2 in the first survey for a total of 188 properties.”

The response rate improved to 56.3%, the report noted, reflecting the owners of 93 parcels. Of those, 62.2% with Gulf-front property supported a beach nourishment project, while 66.7% of those who were not on the Gulf — including those on the bay and those with landlocked parcels — said they favored such a project.

Fifty-nine respondents provided written comments, the report pointed out.

For example, one person wrote, “We are all here to enjoy the Gulf beaches whether we reside on the Gulf or Bay or inland. Therefore we should all contribute.” That person suggested, for example, that people on the Gulf side of Manasota Key pay $10,000 per parcel for a nourishment project, while those on the bay pay $5,000. The respondent also proposed the implementation of a paid parking program at Manasota Beach that would generate revenue for the initiative.

Another person wrote, “My beachfront has receded by 50+ feet since purchasing the property in 2010. After several years of severe erosion (much of the loss was from [Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 and Tropical Storm Colin in 2016], it is now accreting!”

The January survey produced these responses to a question about perception of erosion on Manasota Key. Area 1 is the northernmost portion of the island. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That respondent added, “I was very amenable to the renourishment plan” until learning that more sand probably would have to be added to the beach every five years or so.

“Therefore I am NOT interested.”

Yet another person wrote, “The county should renourish the public beaches,” paying for it out of property tax revenue, “as the public beaches are what all residents come to Sarasota for. More people come for beaches than baseball so maybe fund beaches [through the] bed tax [Tourist Development Tax revenue].”

About 15 of the respondents, by The Sarasota News Leader’s count, concurred that property owners should not have to help cover the cost of a project.

One other respondent wrote, “I strongly object to beach renourishment. It is extremely expensive and at best temporary — possibly [lasting] a few years or … destroyed with one storm. I sympathize with those whose homes are threatened but that is the risk of building close to the Gulf.”

The report added that staff is “in the process of pursuing initial engineering work in the development of a possible joint beach nourishment project with Charlotte County.” The expense has been estimated at $70,000, which is being covered through a combination of Tourist Development Tax revenue and money from the Environmental Protection Division budget. The analysis, the report added, “will be useful [in] determining a more accurate cost estimate for the construction of the project,” with the public paying for part of it.

Further, the report said, staff was continuing “to work with Charlotte County staff in developing an interlocal joint project agreement for initial engineering and feasibility work to be considered by the [Sarasota County Commission].”

County Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester noted in a Sept. 20 email to the News Leader that a draft of that interlocal agreement has been provided to Charlotte County, and staff is awaiting a response.

(For a related story in this issue, see Siesta Seen.)