Manasota Key residents renew pleas to County Commission to partner with Charlotte County on beach renourishment project

Storms over the past months have exacerbated erosion, property owners say

A graphic shows existing beach conditions on part of Manasota Key in March. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Although the Sarasota County Commission approved changes earlier this year to facilitate protection of waterfront property threatened by severe erosion, Manasota Key residents are pleading for more measures, citing unprecedented storm damage wreaked over past months.

During comments to the commission on Nov. 7, Manasota Key homeowners talked of their hope that Sarasota County will end up partnering with Charlotte County for a beach renourishment project.

“The beaches and the sand dunes have disappeared,” said Charles Miller, who owns property from the Gulf of Mexico to Lemon Bay, north of Blind Pass Park.

Hurricane Michael’s 4-foot storm surge washed over the large sandbags that the commissioners have allowed on the beach and chewed out another 15 feet of the shoreline behind the bags, Harry Artz pointed out.

High tides cover the beach and “lap against the bluff,” Artz said.

Jackie Ruthman, president of the Manasota Key Association — which represents more than 250 households — told the board that residents understand no quick, easy, inexpensive answers are available. Still, she said, “We need to keep this issue on the front burner, as several homes are in imminent danger from the next big storm.”

Jackie Ruthman addresses the commission. News Leader photo

“We invite any commissioners … to consider coming down to see things firsthand,” Ruthman added.

During his report to his colleagues that day, Commissioner Charles Hines passed to them photos he had taken during a recent visit to Manasota Key. “Some houses … are getting really close to falling [into the gulf],” he said. “Are we willing to say we’ve done all we can, [that] ‘If your house goes, it goes?’”

Residents of the barrier island have been “real complimentary of our staff,” Hines added. “Our staff’s trying to come up with some ideas.”

Renourishment, Hines pointed out, would come “at a very high price,” though, he added, it would “help for … a number of years.”

The most recent beach nourishment project the county undertook — on south Siesta Key — cost more than $21 million. County staff has explained that ever since beach renourishment began in earnest in the Northeast in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy — in 2012 — demand for projects has grown, but fewer firms exist to bid on them. Therefore, the cost has continued to rise.

In August, with the agreement of the commission, Charlotte County staff notified the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that Sarasota County would be a co-applicant with it for a Joint Coastal Permit to renourish part of Manasota Key Beach.

The most recent document in the FDEP file for the project — dated Oct. 22 — waives the right to have the application approved or denied by the state within 90 days following the completeness of the application, “as prescribed by law.” The document was signed by Michael T. Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants, the Naples firm that has been working with Charlotte County leaders on the their part of the Manasota Key project.

The waiver of the 90-day period will expire on Dec. 12, the application pointed out.

On July 10, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis explained that the Sarasota board would not have to decide until late this year — or possibly even as late as January 2019 — whether to proceed with the partnership with Charlotte County.

In an Aug. 13 response to FDEP’s first Request for Additional Information about the proposed project, (RAI 1), Poff wrote that he expects to use 500,000 cubic yards of sand on the Charlotte County side of Manasota Key. However, in a separate document, he clarifies that the total amount of sand to be removed from offshore borrow areas for the initial project would be about 700,000 cubic yards.

Poff added that the project area had been extended “from southern Sarasota County to the southern end of Englewood Beach Park in Charlotte County,” noting that the two local governments “entered into an interlocal agreement (ILA) to study beach erosion on Manasota Key. The Consulting Team completed the analysis for southern Sarasota County,” he continued. “The Counties are now in the process of modifying the ILA to partner on a regional beach management plan to optimize performance and reduce contracting costs.”

A graphic shows the worst area of erosion on Manasota Key in Sarasota County. Image from the report by Coastal Engineering Consultants

In his Nov. 7 comments to the Sarasota County Commission, Miller urged the board members to partner with Charlotte County on the project. “We rely on you to protect us.”

Artz added that the owners of nine of the 11 homes in the area of the key where he lives have been interested in petitioning for the Class 1 Emergency Variance the commissioners approved in early April. As a result of the unanimous board vote, a person may apply for a three-year variance to keep sandbags on his or her property, at a cost of $450.

Nonetheless, Artz continued, the process to win such a variance is complex, and the expense of documentation and then making the case for help could go as high as $20,000. Thus, he said, some homeowners who fear they would not be able to meet the criteria for the variance have opted not to pursue the process.

During his later board report, Commissioner Hines noted the invitation of Manasota Key property owners for his colleagues who have not seen the severity of the erosion to arrange for a visit to the island. “Spend a couple of hours and see what’s going on.”