One document that must be filed before any permit can be issued still is missing from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers application materials, SKA says
The public has until Aug. 19 to submit comments to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) regarding the material a consulting firm for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filed last week with FDEP regarding the proposed renourishment of South Lido Key.
That was the announcement Siesta Key Association (SKA) Vice President Bob Stein made during the organization’s Aug. 4 meeting. Second Vice President Catherine Luckner, who has taken the lead for the SKA on environmental issues, was out of town, Stein explained, but she had provided him details about the latest documents the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) submitted to FDEP.
Most significantly, Stein pointed out, the amount of sand the USACE and the City of Sarasota are planning to dredge from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key has risen — to almost 1.2 million cubic yards. In material CB&I of Boca Raton filed with FDEP last fall, the USACE said the amount of sand would be 775,000 cubic yards.
Additionally, Stein reported to the approximately 40 people in the audience, the “biological opinion” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service has not yet been provided to FDEP. The state department has requested that document twice since the USACE originally submitted its permit application in March 2015, Stein added. The biological opinion is required before FDEP can issue a permit to the USACE and the city for any dredging, he pointed out.
A biological opinion discusses potential impacts on wildlife in an area targeted for beach renourishment, including the amount of time between projects it is estimated for the beach’s natural food supply for wildlife to return to the pre-construction level, Luckner explained during the December 2015 SKA meeting.
In the FDEP’s first Request for Additional Information (RAI1) regarding the City of Sarasota/USACE Lido project — dated April 15, 2015 — the FDEP staff wrote, “Please provide an updated Incidental Take and Biological Opinions from both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The incidental take authorization should assess take due to construction of the [proposed groins on South Lido Key] as well as potential impacts to nesting and nearshore foraging sea turtles. This Opinion should include potential impacts to nearshore hard bottom habitats as well as impacts due to fill placement.”
The FDEP letter added, “This authorization is not a completeness item, but will be required prior to issuance of a Notice to Proceed. Any necessary changes to the relevant specific conditions following the issuance of the final order would require a permit modification.” The RAI1 also noted that these documents are required by law.
In a Sept. 4, 2015 letter responding to the RAI1, CB&I wrote to the FDEP that it acknowledged the need for those documents. “Copies of the Biological Opinions and consultation letters will be provided to FDEP,” the letter added.
During the Aug. 4 SKA meeting, Stein also told the audience that the latest documents from CB&I say the USACE will need to use the parking lot of the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as a staging area for the renourishment of the beach. “The county has a lot of power in this matter,” he stressed.
The SKA again will “submit questions and challenges to the application,” he added. According to state regulations, FDEP must provide a response to the USACE within 30 days of the USACE’s Aug. 1 submission of the latest material, Stein continued. FDEP will review all comments it receives and circulate them to staff before it responds to the USACE, Stein said. That response could be a third Request for Additional Information.
Furthermore, the SKA is continuing to seek a formal request from the County Commission that the FDEP require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the $19-million Lido project. The SKA sent a letter to the board on July 14 on that subject, Stein noted, adding that no significant USACE project has been undertaken in Florida without an EIS having been completed beforehand.
The USACE issued an Environmental Assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impact in the spring of 2015, saying a full EIS was not necessary. The USACE has maintained that its studies indicated the dredging of Big Pass — which never has been dredged — and the construction of two groins on Lido Key to hold sand in place between renourishments would have no negative impact on the pass itself or Siesta Key.
The SKA will continue to monitor the application process and other aspects of the proposal, Stein pointed out.
Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA), told the audience that both of those organizations also plan to send letters to the County Commission to request that it call for an EIS.
Fighting any dredging of Big Pass
Additionally, Smith said, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), the 501(c)(3) nonprofit established about two-and-a-half years, is raising money for a lawsuit, if needed, to stop the dredging of Big Pass. (SOSS2 is not opposed to the renourishment of Lido, its members have pointed out; it is focused on the pass and protecting Siesta Key.)
“I have pledge forms,” Smith added, if anyone would like to contribute to that effort. If FDEP does issue the permit, he continued, “we have a very short time, 14 days, [to file suit] and challenge this, so we’re trying to muster all the support we can …”
SOSS2 has estimated that a court case could cost $250,000, Smith continued. “And it may seem like a lot of money, but you can’t buy a vacant lot on Siesta Key for $250,000. Think about how much your property’s worth.”
The shoal in Big Pass — one target for the dredging — not only protects the island, Smith pointed out, but it also contributes to the natural renourishment of Siesta’s public beach.
In response to a question from an audience member, Smith explained that the estimate for the expense of litigation is between $100,000 and $250,000. If FDEP denies a permit for the project to the USACE and the city, Smith noted, no legal challenge will be needed.
In response to a follow-up question, Smith said SOSS2 has “around $60,000 in the bank.”
In its latest newsletter, released on Aug. 8, SOSS2 points out that it will be participating in the Giving Challenge through the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. That event will start at noon on Sept. 20 and continue for 24 hours, the newsletter notes. “Every donation up to $100 will be doubled by the Community Foundation and the Patterson Foundation,” it adds. Both Foundations are based in Sarasota.
The Giving Challenge allows nonprofit organizations vetted by the Community Foundation to seek support for their missions.