Contractor continuing to work toward June 30 completion date
As of Tuesday, May 23, about 46,921 cubic yards of sand had been delivered to Turtle Beach Park, which a Sarasota County contractor is using as a staging area for the South Siesta Beach Repair Project, county staff has reported.
Moreover, Curtis Smith, the county’s manager of the initiative, reported that work has been finished on the northern portion of the project area.
Carolyn Eastwood, director of the county’s Capital Projects Department, conveyed that news to the County Commission during its May 23 budget workshop.
Grading and dressing of the northern beach segment of the project area was expected to occur through Friday, May 26, a county news release said, with the north beach anticipated to open to the public on Saturday, May 27.
“Now we’re making the turn to the south,” Smith told county Media Relations Officer Brianne Lorenz during a May 23 video interview. “That process is going to be pretty much the mirror image of what you saw on the north side of the project.”
During a December 2022 presentation to members of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), Smith explained that Hurricane Hermine inflicted more damage on the southern part of the 2016 project area. The repair initiative’s limits, he noted, would extend from “barely up into the Sanderling Club rock revetment system [to] about 250 feet or so south of the last house on the south part of the Key.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has agreed to provide the county 87.5% of the expense of the undertaking. The caveat, however, is that the work must be completed by June 30.
The late Commissioner Nancy Detert and Rob Lewis, the county’s director of governmental relations, met with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott earlier this year to try to enlist their support to persuade FEMA to allow the county to delay the work until November. U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota County Republican, contacted FEMA directly, at the county’s behest, to make the same request. Yet, Eastwood told the commissioners this week that while staff is awaiting word from FEMA on the potential that the completion deadline could be extended, the project remains underway.
Originally, county staff had planned for the repair work to begin in March. However, leaders of the Siesta Key Association had protested that timeline, because of the heavy traffic on the south end of the Key during the height of tourist season. As shown by the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — collections over the past decade, March typically brings the largest number of visitors to the county, with Siesta’s shoreline the primary destination for many of them.
Smith also told the SKA members in December that he believes this is the last Hurricane Hermine-related project that FEMA is addressing, which is another reason that the federal agency wanted the repair work to be completed as soon as possible.
County staff members earlier had received timeline extensions from FEMA, Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, has pointed out.
During the video interview this week with Lorenz, Smith explained that the contractor will close a 500-foot length of the southern portion of the project area at a time, so crew members can spread the new sand, which is coming via dump truck from an inland mine approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Every time the workers wrap up one 500-foot stretch, they close another segment to begin work there, Smith told Lorenz. “So the closure will move down the beach.”
The contractor is taking care to make sure plenty of room is allowed between beachgoers and the workers, he emphasized.
On county webpages, staff points out, “Beach users should pay attention to project signage for the location of water or viewing access. Motorists should expect to encounter truck traffic along Midnight Pass Road, Turtle Beach Road, and Blind Pass Road within the park. Motorists are also cautioned to heed all flagmen and traffic signage. Visitors should maintain good visibility and use caution near the work zone. The boat ramp area, playground, and restrooms [at Turtle Beach Park] will remain open during construction.”
“Sarasota County is home to more than 35 miles of beaches,” each with its own unique characteristics and amenities, staff has pointed out. “While the South Siesta Beach repair project is underway, residents and visitors are encouraged to visit one of Sarasota County’s other beach locations.”
Staff also has been reminding the public that representatives of Mote Marine Laboratory and Sarasota Audubon Society are undertaking daily sea turtle and shorebird monitoring at the project site.
To stay up-to-date on the project’s progress, visit scgov.net/beachrepair or call the county Contact Center at 311.