Environmental and public access issues at heart of latest incidents
A new controversy has erupted near Beach Access 2 on Siesta Key, near the intersection of Avenida Messina and North Beach Road, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Siesta resident Mike Cosentino contended that Siesta resident and business owner Mike Holderness was violating county and state environmental regulations by trying to remove sand that Tropical Storm Eta had blown onto North Beach Road.
The incident comes on the heels of a state warning issued in October that a “sand fence” Andy Cooper of Siesta Key had erected on property he owns along North Beach Road had to be removed. Cooper’s goal, Holderness told the News Leader, was to try to prevent sand from continuing to blow onto a portion of that road.
The fence was removed the first full week of November, according to information Cosentino provided the News Leader.
Cosentino argued that the fencing prevented public access to the beach.
In a Nov. 17 statement emailed to the News Leader in response to a request for comments, Alexandra Kuchta, deputy press secretary for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), wrote, “The unsecured sand fence along Beach Road … sustained damages following Tropical Storm Eta and has since been removed. The department will still be pursuing formal enforcement in this matter. If necessary, sand placement will be required to restore the landscape [and] penalties may also be assessed.”
Kuchta added, “Thanks to Governor [Ron] DeSantis’ leadership, we have a strong regulatory structure focused on enforcement that allows the department to take the necessary steps to effectively address issues like this and protect Florida’s environment. “
The latest incident on North Beach Road involved not only Cosentino and Holderness, but also an FDEP representative and a member of Sarasota County staff, according to a report filed with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.
Just before 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, Deputy Scott Bollinger wrote in the narrative of his report, he responded to Beach Access 2 after having been notified of a civil disturbance between Holderness and Cosentino, both of whom had called in complaints.
Holderness told Bollinger that he had hired the firm Roots to remove sand that had piled up in front of the condominiums located from 45 Beach Road to 55 Beach Road as Tropical Storm Eta passed through the Gulf of Mexico.
Holderness added that Cosentino had parked his pickup truck in the way, preventing the Roots crew from completing its work.
Cosentino told the deputy that he believed Holderness was undertaking the work without a permit.
Then Greg Young, a county employee, arrived on the scene, Bollinger continued. Young advised Bollinger that Holderness did not have a permit for the initiative and, therefore, should not be moving any sand.
In a Nov. 13 email, Cosentino told the News Leader that he was on the phone with Kelly Cramer, an FDEP environmental protection specialist, as the deputy was talking to all the parties. Cosentino added that he asked Cramer to speak to the Bollinger, as well.
Bollinger noted that in the Sheriff’s Office report.
When Bollinger talked with Cramer, Bollinger added in his narrative, Cramer told him that “Mr. Holderness was to cease and desist all activity immediately. Ms. Cramer told me she is responsible for the issuance of permits for this disputed area and not only did she not issue any permits to Mr. Holderness, [but] she sent him a [cease and desist letter via email on Nov. 12],” Bollinger continued in the report.
“Ms. Cramer advised that she would follow up with Mr. Holderness and Sarasota County,” and, if necessary, the Sheriff’s Office, Bollinger wrote.
(Cosentino also provided the News Leader a copy of an email he had sent to Cramer on the evening of Nov. 12. In that, he wrote that he understood that any filling and excavation in what the state classifies as a Coastal High Hazard area requires “a right-of-way use permit, a variance from [Sarasota County staff], and authorization from the DEP.”)
After he related Cramer’s comments to “all involved parties” on North Beach Road on Nov. 13, Bollinger added, the Roots employees and Cosentino left the area.
Bollinger took no further action, he noted.
He left the scene just before 10 a.m., Bollinger wrote in the report.
Pleas for action
Following the incident, Holderness copied the News Leader on an email he sent to Cramer. “None of us [property] owners want you thinking we’re lawless,” he wrote. “It was my understanding of the law that returning windblown sand from road to beach is [exempt] from permitting under [the Florida Administrative Code] as long as this activity does not involve a change in the general grade and provided that any beach quality sand is returned to the beach [his emphasis] and dune system seaward of the CCCL [Coastal Construction Control Line].”
The section of the code he cited — 62B-33.004(2)(c)(6) — allows, “[t]he removal of windblown sand from paved roads and parking areas, beach access ramps, pools, patios, walkways, or decks not involving a change in the general grade and provided that any beach quality sand is returned to the beach and dune system seaward of the CCCL.”
Holderness included that part of the regulation in his email to Cramer.
The CCCL is a figurative line imposed by FDEP; no construction can take place seaward of the CCCL without an FDEP permit. FDEP explains that the CCCL Program “regulates structures and activities which can cause beach erosion, destabilize dunes, damage upland properties, or interfere with public access. CCCL permits also protect sea turtles and dune plants.”
Further, Holderness pointed out in the email to Cramer, guests staying in the condominiums in front of which the sand was piled on the morning of Nov. 13 could not get out of the garages during Eta, “as wind was blowing sand all over the property.”
The reason the sand was in piles, he continued, was that he was working with the Roots crew to separate clean sand from dirty sand, with the intent of returning the clean sand to the dunes, as called for in the section of the Florida Administrative Code he had cited.
“All I’m asking for is a little respect and understanding,” Holderness continued, as he is responsible for his guests’ well being.
Sarasota County staff declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation with Holderness and Cosentino.