Raking reported to have ceased in Siesta conservation easement area

A photo taken in April shows mechanical grooming tracks in the area of the conservation easement for 610-612 Beach Road on Siesta Key. Contributed photo

Sarasota County staff reported to the County Commission this week that it appeared raking and grooming had ceased in the area of a conservation easement involving property at 610-612 Beach Road on Siesta Key.

Howard J. Berna, an environmental supervisor in the county’s Conservation and Natural Resources Department, had written a letter May 18 to William W. Merrill III, attorney for Siesta Key LLC, which owns the property, to point out that the easement prohibited mechanical raking and grooming from March to September, when beach-nesting birds, such as the endangered snowy plovers, are common on Siesta Key.

Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association and a Sarasota Audubon volunteer, told The Sarasota News Leader June 1 that she had learned from county staff that a person who had been handling beach grooming for a number of years for Siesta Key condominium complexes had acknowledged to Parks and Recreation Department staff that he understood he no longer could mow in the easement area.

“That’s the good news,” she said.

In voting April 27, 2011, to allow a variance for construction at the Beach Road site, the county commissioners had stipulated the raking prohibition be included in language for the conservation easement.

However, in April, Sarasota Audubon volunteer Allan Worms had reported seeing evidence of mechanical raking and mowing along the beach in the easement area.

In his May 30 email to the commissioners and other county staff, Berna wrote that he had conducted a site visit the previous day with Margot Sermot, a neighbor of the area, “to assess if additional raking and grooming had occurred. While one set of ATV tracks were noted, there was no evidence that a tractor had recently been raking and grooming in this area.”

Jody D. Mann, administrative specialist to the commissioners, had reported on May 29 that Sermet had phoned the commissioners’ office to report that she thought someone still was hiring a person to rake the area.

Berna added in his email that he still had had no response from Merrill in regard to the May 18 letter. He confirmed for the News Leader on June 1 that he still had not heard from Merrill.

“We will continue to monitor this challenging situation,” Berna added in the email.

Commissioner Jon Thaxton emailed Berna back to thank him, adding, “Very thorough work.”

During their discussions of the request for the variance last spring, Thaxton had been adamant about protecting the beach-nesting birds by prohibiting mechanical raking and grooming. Thaxton had pointed out that grooming practices disturbed microorganisms on the beach that are invisible to the naked eye.

The 2012 guide from the Florida Shorebird Alliance points out that mechanical beach raking “can pose serious threats to the survival of seabirds and shorebirds that are dependent upon sandy beaches.”

It adds that beach wrack — natural debris such as seaweed and shells — “provides important roosting, cover, and food for adults and chicks of beach-dependent birds,” which may be impacted adversely when wrack is removed by raking. It adds, “The invertebrates associated with wrack are often an important food source for beach-dependent birds (especially plover species ….”

Luckner also told the News Leader she was pleased that residents of the easement area were “very protective of that buffer.”

She added that many people are unaware that dunes, or buffers, provide protection to residential property when strong waves are rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico.