Project funding coming out of RESTORE Act money from BP settlement over Deepwater Horizon disaster
The Sarasota County Commission has awarded a $328,500 contract to Stantec Consulting Services of Sarasota to handle the design and permitting process for a multi-use recreational trail (MURT) at Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Beach.
The action came in the form of the board’s unanimous vote on April 26 to approve its Consent Agenda of routine business matters.
The park is located between 190 Taft Drive and 2201 Benjamin Franklin Drive, within the city of Sarasota, even though it is owned by the county.
The MURT, which will be 10 feet wide, “will consist of boardwalks and asphalt pavement to accommodate multi-modal users such as cyclists, skaters, walkers and runners and for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” an April 26 staff memo explained.
In late March 2016, the memo added, the commission seated at that time authorized staff to develop a “multi-year implementation plan to fund a pilot project for Ted Sperling Park,” including the MURT and coastal wetlands restoration. The funds were to come out of the money that BP paid to settle damages resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion, which resulted in significant damage to the Gulf of Mexico and several state shorelines on the Gulf.
In April 2016, The Maritime Executive reported that BP was “ordered to pay $5.5 billion to settle civil damages claims made by the U.S. as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The amount will be paid over the course of 16 years.”
A U.S. Department of the Treasury document, related to RESTORE Act funding of the Sperling Park project, explains that the construction of the MURT “will not only allow safe transit from north to south within the park, but will also provide a defined connection and access to offsite amenities,” including shops and restaurants located on St. Armands Circle. Further, the Treasury document says, “The construction of boardwalks and extension of the MURT will improve the ecotourism opportunities, which will create associated economic benefit to be experienced by businesses near the park, including lodging, restaurants, and other local commercial establishments.”
Thanks to the County Commission vote on April 26, the staff memo indicated, the design work for the MURT would proceed, with completion anticipated in January 2023.
However, Nicole Rissler, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, told The Sarasota News Leader this week, “No date has been confirmed for the commencement of construction.”
Details about the project included in the agreement with Stantec say the MURT — which will be 4,500 feet long — will be part of a City of Sarasota initiative, “portions of which have been constructed outside of the park boundaries. The construction will add recreational opportunities and expand access to the park by providing an improved bicycle and pedestrian trail that will stretch through natural park areas located between the Nature Center and South Lido Beach.”
In October 2019, the City of Sarasota began construction of the Coon Key MURT, also a 10-foot-wide path, that was designed to connect the Ringling Bridge and St. Armands Circle. That project included the replacement of an aging water main below the road, as then-City Manager Tom Barwin reported in a May 2020 newsletter.
That undertaking was completed in March 2021, city Communications Specialist Jason Bartolone told The Sarasota News Leader. Bartolone added in his May 10 email, “The City Commission has approved the [county’s] South Lido MURT as part of the overall concept for multi-use paths out on the islands.”
The county’s agreement with Stantec also noted that the county’s application for the RESTORE Act grant funds included engineering documents that were completed in April 2010 by Post Buckley Schuh and Jernigan (PBSJ), a Tampa firm that is known as Atkins North America Holdings Corp. Stantec was directed to use those documents “as a preliminary concept” for the MURT, the agreement pointed out.
In December 2017, the agreement continued, county staff “received a determination” that the project, as described in those documents, “would not require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. … It is the intent of the County to have the Project designed in a manner to maintain this determination. It is anticipated that a resubmittal for verification will be required.”
Further, Stantec is to coordinate with county staff to make minor adjustments to the basic design, “as needed, to accommodate current design trends and lessons learned in the design and construction of natural area recreational trails,” the agreement pointed out.
Moreover, a Stantec ecologist will need to conduct a site visit “to validate the existing and permitted wetland lines,” in accord with provisions of the Florida Administrative Code, the agreement said. The ecologist also must “evaluate existing habitats and collect additional site data required for the City of Sarasota,” as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
A topographic and tree survey will be necessary, as well, the agreement noted.
The News Leader asked county staff this week why it took so long to get the project launched, since the County Commission initially discussed it in 2016.
Rissler of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department responded in a May 12 email that the MURT originally was “submitted for [City of Sarasota] development review as a Sarasota County project” in the mid to latter part of the first decade of this century. Because of funding and other constraints, she continued, “[T]he project did not move forward at that time.”
Moreover, Rissler pointed out, components of the project — including the final designs and regulatory approvals required because of the federal funding involved —were not acquired prior to the commission’s approval of it.
“These items have since been addressed,” she pointed out. A request for an extension of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Environmental Resources Permit also was submitted and approved, Rissler wrote.
“Since obtaining RESTORE Act funding for the MURT Sarasota County has coordinated with the U.S. Department of the Treasury,” she also noted.
Further, “Impacts from COVID-19 have played into the more recent delays to this project,” she pointed out.