Save Our Siesta Sand 2 chair continues to voice concerns about the project, while the city engineer says she has no specific information about when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will submit final documents required by the state for the Lido Renourishment Project permit
Save Our Siesta Sand 2, a nonprofit organization on Siesta Key that has been fighting a proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key’s eroded beach over a 50-year period finally received answers this week to questions it submitted in March to the Sarasota County Commission, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
As part of its direction after the March 23 public discussion of a peer review of the proposed $19-million City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project for Lido, the county board asked that staff make certain those questions were answered.
On May 16, Assistant County Administrator Mark Cunningham wrote in an email to the commissioners that “staff reached out to Atkins to obtain answers.” Atkins is the firm county staff hired to provide the peer review.
“Subsequently,” Cunningham continued, “it was determined that questions 1 through 6 require significant work, including technical modeling, that is well outside Atkins’ scope of work for this effort; however, City staff provided responses to these questions.” He added, “Atkins provided responses for question 7 and 8.”
In the meantime, City of Sarasota Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw told the News Leader in a May 18 telephone interview that she has had no information from the USACE about when it plans to provide the additional material the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has sought in its review of the city and USACE permit application for the dredging and renourishment project. In mid-March, the FDEP granted the USACE six more months to comply with the requests, including a seagrass mitigation plan. “They are working to get something in as soon as they can,” DavisShaw said of the USACE project manager and the agency’s consultants. “Exactly when, I don’t know.”
As for the material provided this week to Save Our Siesta Sand 2, Matt Osterhoudt, senior manager in the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, told the News Leader in a May 16 email — in which he provided the questions and answers — that staff has met with City of Sarasota staff, as the county commissioners also requested on March 23, in an attempt to fill in gaps of information the Atkins team said it could not find during its review of the Lido project plans. Laird Wreford, the county’s coastal initiatives manager, responded to the News Leader in a May 17 email, saying the county/city staff meeting was held on April 26 about the Atkins report and the questions posed by Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), whose chair is Peter van Roekens. “I believe there were also a couple of telephone conversations, in the same general time period, as well,” Wreford added.
After reviewing the answers, van Roekens responded to the News Leader’s request for his reaction. Since the dredging of Big Pass first was proposed years ago, he wrote, “six independent experts (Aubrey & Dolan; Robert Young; Coastal Planning and Engineering; Applied Technology Management; Coastal Research Associates; Atkins) have said that the plans … pose significant risks to Siesta Key or they are not sure if they do. How can the County allow this to go forward?”
Young, the director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, a joint venture of Western Carolina University and Duke University in North Carolina, and a professor of coastal geology, addressed members of the public on SOSS2’s behalf in May 2015, pointing to numerous concerns he had with the City of Sarasota/USACE proposal.
In 1994, D.G. Aubrey and Robert Dolan undertook a study that showed how the Big Pass ebb shoal is the key to Siesta Key’s shoreline stability and low erosion rates. Aubrey was a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, while Dolan was a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia.
DavisShaw told the News Leader this week that she plans to schedule another session with county staff members this summer, though, given the fact that many people take vacations then, she was not sure when it would be conducted. Nonetheless, she said, “I just want to continue to answer questions and have discussions [with them]. … We do want to make sure to keep lines of communication open.”
The following are the questions and answers, provided by county staff to the News Leader:
- Given that dredging the ebb shoal [of Big Pass] may reduce the amount of sand transported to Siesta [Public] Beach, what are the possible ranges of beach loss and how can this be predicted?
The borrow area was designed to ensure that sediment transport pathways around the [Big Sarasota Pass] inlet are not disrupted. Therefore, there will be no reduction in sand transported to Siesta Beach. Please review the modeling report available on the USACE website for additional details.
- Why was it that originally three groins were required to retain the sand and now only two are required? However, when the USACE submitted its permit application for the project to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection [FDEP] in March 2015, it included only two groins in the proposal.) How confident [is] Atkins that two groins will retain the sand without an impact on Ted Sperling Park? What are the possible ranges of impact on the park from downdrift erosion from these groins? (The park is a county-owned facility on southern Lido Key.)
(When USACE Project Manager Milan Mora introduced the plan publicly in September 2013, he discussed the need for three groins to hold sand in place between renourishments of the beach, expected about every five years. City Engineer Alex DavisShaw told the County Commission on March 23 she anticipated renourishments would take place every seven to 10 years after the initial project.)
USACE reevaluated the originally designed groins to identify whether they could be minimized in an effort to address concerns expressed by stakeholders. The removal of the third groin and the shortening of the two existing groins were done in an effort to allay concerns, but the third groin may be needed in the future if sand is not adequately retained. This was proposed as an adaptive management option at [a] Public Meeting on April 15, 2015.
- Could the areas of Lido Beach that need sand be protected using significantly less sand?
The City of Sarasota did complete a project in 2015 with significantly less sand. [However], as the cost for mobilization [of dredging equipment] is such a large part of the project, small projects [that] need to be reconstructed more often provide much less protection and are more costly. The project done in 2015 did not last long at all [as] many locations were eroded within a year. Because of the higher cost per [cubic yard] of sand for small projects and the shorter interval between projects, the [USACE] would not fund a significantly smaller project. [That] would need to be funded with local dollars.
- The data used to support the plan is significantly outdated. … ([W]hat would be required to gather the information to do the analysis needed and provide an opinion on the recommendations in the USACE plan? How long would that take and what would it cost?) … [I]s it common to use data of this age to develop a beach model?
The data used in the model is not out-of-date. At the time of the commencement of the model, the most recent data was used. The dates of the data are detailed in the modeling report.
- There is overwhelming evidence that the Intracoastal [Waterway], the Bays and the area passes interact to affect the tidal flow in each pass. Given this, how can Big Pass dredging be successfully modeled in isolation from this [area-wide] system? It is safe to proceed with the current plan without an [area-wide] environmental impact statement?
The model was calibrated and verified. The model reflects the hydrology of the entire system, and does not isolate [Big Sarasota Pass] from Sarasota Bay and the other inlets associated with it.
- If unexpected consequences occurred either because the groins were installed or because Big Pass was dredged, what are possible remediation options noting the experience at Midnight Pass? (Sarasota County allowed owners of property on Midnight Pass to close the inlet in 1983 because their homes were threatened by erosion of the beach. Subsequently, environmental reports showed a degradation of the quality of the water in the bay because of the inability for flow to continue between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico.) Would this be a onetime event or a reoccurring event as in Venice? And given [whether] remediation is even possible, what are the ranges of cost for this work?
If the groins did not perform as intended, remediation options would be available to modify or remove them. In addition, the project includes an extensive monitoring plan to identify how the project is performing. Future construction events can be modified based on the results of the surveys conducted to address any concerns that develop (otherwise known as “adaptive management.”) The [USACE] and the City will develop a plan with a few adaptive management options such as the addition of a third groin [if] needed in the future.
“Question number 7 posed in the [SOSS2] document … refers to changes made between the draft and final versions of the Atkins report,” says the county response this week to SOSS2. “The quality control and review process associated with the Atkins report called for a detailed review of the document to ensure that all statements were concurrent with the work assigned, were as accurate as possible, and were non-speculative,” the county email continues.
In regard to three examples cited in the SOSS2 questions, the email adds, “our review team agreed that the updated language more accurately reflected our understanding of the facts and conclusions reached during our review. All changes made from draft to final version were reviewed by our technical professionals and addressed with the County to ensure they met the intent of the peer review — an independent review of the proposed project, as it relates to the stated features of interest.”
The following are the three SOSS2 examples:
- a. The word “adverse” was deleted from this sentence: “Back-passing of sand by dredging a portion of the ebb shoal may interrupt this movement with consequent adverse effects.”
Atkins replied, “The word ‘adverse’ was removed from this sentence, because the authors did not feel that it accurately represented the conclusions reached in the Atkins’ report. Insufficient detail was available to conclude the positive or negative nature of effects associated with sand movement in the system.”
- b. The word “potential” was added to this sentence: “Due to the potential risk of impacts to downdrift beaches associated with this project, a model that can accurately describe the currents and two-dimensional (longshore and offshore) transport should be considered.”
Atkins replied, “The word ‘potential’ was added to the sentence to more accurately communicate the intended context of this statement.”
- c. This sentence was removed: “Based on the analysis performed in the Mining Alternatives report, the options that include dredging Channel C (through the Flood Marginal Channel) potentially [encourage] erosion at the southern end of [Sperling] park.” It was replaced with the following sentence: “It is not clear to us why the terminal groin was removed.” The statement is contained in bullet number 1 of the Executive Summary. The focus and context of this paragraph [are] relative to the groin features of the proposed project.
Atkins replied, “The sentence was removed because it was not consistent with the focus and content of the paragraph. The sentence which was inserted was not intended to “replace” the sentence which was removed, but was “inserted” to complete the thought presented in the paragraph.
- What was the scientific basis for the following statements in the final Atkins report:
- Using a smaller amount of sand from Big Pass ebb shoal could prove advantageous.
- The County may want to consider an interim step in the implementation of the project.
- That erosion will continue at Ted Sperling Park.
“Atkins did not provide a written response to Question No. 8,” the email to SOSS2 says. “However, the Atkins project team verbally reported to County staff the following,” the email adds: “Statements a. and b. come from a single paragraph in the Executive Summary, in which Atkins suggests consideration of a less impactive smaller volume trial project initially, to then evaluate any positive or negative results prior to implementing the full project as proposed. This suggestion was based on the project team’s professional experience combined with their review of the available scientific reports. Statement c. comes from the No-Action Alternative, based on the current and on-going erosion rate along the Lido shoreline (including Ted Sperling Park).”