Repairs continue on section of North Casey Key Road damaged by Tropical Storm Cristobal

County engineer plans another effort to seek County Commission support for special assessments of property owners to help pay for long-term road stabilization

A county crew uses a spider excavator on the morning of June 11 to place limestone rocks along the shoreline of the damaged section of North Casey Key Road. Image from Facebook Live, via Sarasota County Government

Sarasota County Public Works Department staff has been laboring this week to repair a section of North Casey Key Road shattered by Tropical Storm Cristobal, with one lane of traffic reopened to the public about 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

It likely will be Monday or Tuesday of next week, County Engineer Spencer Anderson reported on June 11, before the second lane is ready for traffic.

During a Facebook Live interview just after 9 a.m. on June 11, Anderson explained to county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant that staff was using a machine called a spider excavator to place rubble riprap along the shoreline. The limestone rocks come from natural formations in the ground, he pointed out.

The next step, he continued, would be to fill in voids created by erosion. “Then we’ll build this lane back up” and resurface it with asphalt, he added.

In the meantime, Anderson already is considering another attempt to win County Commission approval of a funding mechanism to help pay for a long-term stabilization process for that portion of the road and another area of Casey Key where erosion has threatened one of the county’s potable water lines.

This photo shows some of the damage inflicted on the road by Tropical Storm Cristobal. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

Early in the afternoon of Sunday, June 7, as waves crashed over the portion of the road in front of 712 N. Casey Key Road, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office received a call about erosion undermining the structure, that department reported.

After assessing the situation, Sheriff’s Office personnel contacted the county’s Road & Bridge Division, a Sheriff’s Office news alert said. As a result of their survey of the scene, county staff members closed the road to traffic from the 700 block to the 500 block, the Sheriff’s Office reported shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The affected portion of the Casey Key Road is north of Blackburn Point Road, Anderson pointed out during a June 9 press conference conducted via Zoom.

As he has explained to the County Commission in the past, he told the news media that a step revetment system was constructed in the affected area around 1990. Approximately 1,600 feet in length, the revetment was made of cement and a mix of shell and sand.

“Over time, it’s been eroding away from environmental factors,” he added during the news conference.

In July 2019, he continued, staff had to repair another section of the road “with somewhat similar damage” to what appeared on Sunday. That area is just a bit north of the new scene of concerns, he said.

On June 7, approximately 60 feet of the step revetment in front of the house located at 712 Casey Key Road was “fractured and disconnected from the road” as a result of Tropical Storm Cristobal’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico, Anderson pointed out.

When staff members arrived there early Sunday afternoon, he said, they found that an area of the step revetment had failed, and it took the southbound lane along with it.

“The sea state was extremely rough over the weekend due to Cristobal,” Anderson stressed.

This photo shows part of the void under one lane of the affected area of North Casey Key Road. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

During their assessment, Anderson said, the Public Works crew members found “a large void” under the road that was about 2 feet deep and 20 feet long. That was why staff declared the area unsafe for vehicles, he explained.

On June 8, Anderson continued, workers began filling the void with a mix of sand, cement and water. However, he pointed out, “The sea state is absolutely a challenge.”

The first cement vendor county staff called to assist with the repairs refused to allow its employees to remain at the site, Anderson noted; a company representative felt the situation was too unsafe. “We had to find another supplier,” Anderson said, which delayed the beginning of the effort to get the void filled.

Since residents on Casey Key are accustomed to using the one-lane Blackburn Point Road Bridge, Anderson pointed out, he felt they would have no difficulty dealing with the single lane for the time being on Casey Key Road. Staff would set up a traffic system similar to the one used for drivers heading toward the bridge, he added.

On Sunday, staff went door-to-door, he pointed out, to alert residents in the area of the situation, and it sent out a CodeRed notification to the 39 homeowners just north of the compromised site.

“Everyone’s been very cooperative,” he emphasized. “Obviously, very frustrated.”

He also pointed out that county staff worked with the Nokomis Fire Department and the Sarasota County Fire Department to ensure that emergency services could be provided to residents if the need arose.

As of June 9, residents were allowed to walk or drive golf carts by the damaged segment, he said.

The long-term approach

With the repairs underway, Anderson explained during the press conference, the design of a new rock revetment the County Commission authorized last year also is in process. As he explained to the board members during a June 2019 budget workshop and again in February, the goal is to stabilize the public road in the section that encompasses the latest damage. Additionally, a project has been planned in the 2100 block of Casey Key Road to deal with the potable county water line issue.

The total cost of those initiatives will be about $8 million, he said

Just as he did last year, in February, Anderson broached the idea of reviving a special taxing district on part of Casey Key, which would help cover the county’s expenses for the two projects.

A county truck on North Casey Key Road gets sprayed by surf on June 8, thanks to the lingering effects of Tropical Storm Cristobal’s passage through the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

A Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) was created in the late 1980s to pay for the step revetment on Casey Key Road that has continued to be compromised by erosion, Anderson told the commissioners. The district covered property on about half of the barrier island, he noted during the June 9 news conference.

However, after all the funding was secured for that earlier project, he told the commissioners, the MSTU assessment was reduced to zero in 1996 on the tax bills of those property owners. Since the MSTU never was dissolved, Anderson added, the opinion of the Office of the County Attorney is that it could be used to help finance the new projects.

When Anderson brought up the MSTU proposal in June 2019, Commissioners Michael Moran, Charles Hines and Christian Ziegler said they felt it would be unfair to approve a new tax for the owners of the approximately 300 affected parcels on Casey Key without giving those persons the opportunity to comment.

Anderson had estimated the assessment for each parcel would be about $1,200 a year.

These are potential MSTU payment options staff provided to the County Commission on Feb. 4. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In February, when Anderson appeared again before the board, he discussed the outreach that had taken place since last year. In fact, he said, staff was present at the January Casey Key Association meeting to make a presentation on the MSTU.

Yet, Lisa Napolitano, president of that association, told the commissioners on Feb. 4 that the position of all of her organization’s members was that the county needs to pay for repairs to Casey Key Road, because so many members of the public use that route, for tourism and for bicycling, especially.

That day, Commissioner Nancy Detert joined Moran, Hines and Commissioner Alan Maio in asserting that the county should take on the funding responsibility for that reason. Ziegler offered no comments.

Since then, the county — like all other local government bodies — has been faced with reducing expenses because of the recession brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

When the News Leader asked Anderson on June 9 whether he planned once more to broach with the commission the idea of reviving the Casey Key MSTU, he replied, “Yes, that will be a consideration.”

A crew works on filling a void under the damaged section of North Casey Key Road. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

He anticipated that later this year or early next year, “The board might take that up …”

The News Leader made multiple, unsuccessful attempts this week to reach Commission Chair Michael Moran, to ask whether he plans to seek the scheduling of another discussion of the MSTU when the board meets next in July.

Until the long-term repairs on North Casey Key can be completed — with or without MSTU funds — Anderson said the interim repairs should allow for safe travel.