March 23 is tentative date for County Commission to hear presentation on peer review of City of Sarasota’s Lido Renourishment Project

County staff also has reported this week that the City of Sarasota is expected to deliver a written response on the Atkins report by Feb. 26

Big Pass is quiet in early dawn on a spring day. File photo
Big Pass is quiet in early dawn on a spring day. File photo

March 23 appears to be the date the Sarasota County Commission will hear a presentation on the peer review it sought of the $19-million proposal of the City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach.

The news went to County Administrator Tom Harmer on Feb. 11, and he passed it along to the commissioners.

Matt Osterhoudt, senior manager in the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, wrote that the discussion has been tentatively scheduled for the afternoon session of the board’s regular meeting on March 23 in Sarasota.

The $49,620 contract county staff inked with the Atkins firm in the spring of 2015 for a review of the renourishment plans included an appearance by the Atkins team before the County Commission.

As recently as Jan. 19, in remarks to Siesta Key Condominium Council members, commission Chair Al Maio reiterated a statement he made to the Siesta Key Association (SKA) in December 2015 — that his board would hold a public discussion of the Atkins review.

Both SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner and Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), welcomed the news this week that the presentation tentatively had been scheduled.

Matt Osterhoudt. File photo
Matt Osterhoudt. File photo

In a Feb. 17 email to the News Leader, van Roekens wrote on behalf of his board, “We agree it is a very good thing that the County is scheduling Atkins to present their report to the commission. Given that the report points out many flaws in the science applied and the conclusions reached, we hope the commission does not support this [renourishment] project as it is currently defined. We think that the County should use whatever leverage they deem appropriate with the City to encourage them to find their sand source offshore and/or in New Pass and scale the amount of sand back to the traditional levels of renourishment for Lido.”

The most recent documentation the News Leader could find on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) website says the amount of sand to be dredged from Big Pass has been reduced from about 1.3 million cubic yards — the figure cited in the earliest public presentations on the proposal — to 775,000 cubic yards.

State and city responses to the Atkins review

Luckner also was pleased with other news Osterhoudt related in the Feb. 11 email: “City of Sarasota staff have informed us that they are working on a written response to the Atkins peer review report. From what we understand, they intend to provide a response approximately within the next two weeks that might help provide explanations and/or other perspectives that should be considered during the presentation by [the] Atkins [team].”

Osterhoudt wrote in a follow-up email to Harmer on Feb. 16 that city staff likely would submit its response by Feb. 26.

Catherine Luckner. File photo
Catherine Luckner. File photo

During the Feb. 4 SKA meeting, Bob Luckner — Catherine’s husband — referred to county staff’s efforts to engage city staff in discussions about the Atkins review: “You could think of it as a negotiation to avoid future litigation.” He added, “[FDEP] is very responsive to local governments … so if the county should ever drive a stake in the ground and say, ‘We’re against [the project],’” FDEP would take that into serious consideration. “I think the city would hate to see that happen,” he said.

Bob and Catherine Luckner together have worked on behalf of the SKA to stay in communication with FDEP, city and county staffs about the Lido Renourishment Project and to emphasize Siesta Key residents’ concerns about the potential of any dredging of Big Pass.

Van Roekens has been the point person for his organization in similar communications with state and local government officials.

Osterhoudt offered one other piece of news in his Feb. 11 email. “FDEP staff have informed us that their permitting staff have carefully reviewed the Atkins peer review report and have taken it into consideration,” he wrote. “While the report has not been specifically incorporated into their Requests for Additional Information (RAI), the report was taken into account.”

FDEP is awaiting a USACE response to a second RAI, which FDEP issued on Oct. 7, 2015.

During the Feb. 4 SKA meeting, Bob Luckner told the approximately 70 members present that the Atkins review “is a very well thought-out set of concerns.”

Peter van Roekens. File photo
Peter van Roekens. File photo

Additionally, Catherine Luckner has explained to SKA members that questions the organization raised in its original comments to FDEP about the Lido Renourishment Project — sent in a letter dated April 9, 2015 — were reiterated in the Atkins report.

In a Feb. 16 email to the News Leader, she noted that among those were concerns about the design of the project itself, including the type of groin the USACE has proposed constructing on Lido to help keep new sand in place in between renourishments planned every five years over a 50-year project life.

The Luckners have pointed out that a permeable adjustable design would seem more appropriate for the two groins, in the event the sand stabilization effort did not work as predicted.