Sarasota County and Longboat commissions agree to ask West Coast Inland Navigation District board if that organization can take on beach management role

Longboat town manager makes the case that increasing competition and litigation over sand underscores need for change in handling of renourishment projects

Equipment dumps and spreads sand that the Town of Longboat Key trucked in last summer to renourish part of its beach. Image courtesy Town of Longboat Key

Given both the increasing cost of beach renourishment projects and the heightened level of competition for sand sources, the Sarasota County Commission and the Longboat Town Commission have agreed that it would be beneficial for one entity to handle beach management for Southwest Florida.

To that end, County Commissioner Charles Hines will ask his colleagues on the Board of Directors of the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) if they would be interested in having that organization take on the leadership role. The board’s next meeting is set for Nov. 17, the WCIND website notes.

The WCIND — which represents Collier, Lee, Sarasota and Manatee counties — is a special taxing body that “plays a pivotal role in the waterway projects that promote safe navigation from the ‘Open Water’ of the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) to the systems of secondary waterways,” the organization’s website explains. It supports county and local governments in maintaining and enhancing public navigation of channels and inlets, boating access facilities, waterfront parks, and piers and special structures, the website adds.

“The intensity of competition around beach management [is increasing], and it will continue to increase, because acceptable sand sources are diminishing,” Longboat Town Manager Dave Bullock pointed out during a Nov. 1 joint meeting of his board and the County Commission. All the local governments in the area — including Longboat, the Cities of Sarasota and Venice and Sarasota County — “compete with each other every year for beach [renourishment] funding,” Bullock added. Each handles its own permitting, as well. “We have very limited project coordination,” even though that would lead to lower expenses, he said.

State Road 789 crosses New Pass between St. Armands Key and Longboat Key. Image from Google Maps

When two local government entities do work together, he continued, they have a greater chance of success in winning state funding for renourishment projects because of the point system state leaders use in ranking projects.

Longboat does have interlocal agreements with the City of Sarasota and Manatee County, he noted, which cover use of sand from New Pass and Longboat Pass, respectively. For example, he noted, the City of Sarasota will be entitled to use sand dredged the next time from New Pass, as Longboat used the sand that it dredged in August 2016. (Bullock told The Sarasota News Leader that it typically takes five years after dredging for sufficient sand to accumulate for the next project in New Pass.)

On the East Coast, Bullock told the county commissioners, cities are suing each other over both sand sources and the building of structures neighbors find to be worsening their erosion. “The best sand sources are the subject of intense competition right now.”

Bullock added, “I think it’s nuts that little ol’ Longboat Key would compete with the City of Venice someday for a sand source.”

Moreover, he continued, “Inlet dredging already is becoming the subject of much more attention than it has in the past,” as local leaders have seen with the City of Sarasota’s proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a 1.6-mile stretch of South Lido Key. (A Florida Division of Administrative Hearings proceeding has been scheduled to start Dec. 12 in Sarasota regarding challenges to that project, which has been planned by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

“Inlet sand is going to become more and more the focus of dredging as offshore sand sources get further away and more expensive,” Bullock said, but “there’s not enough sand in our inlets to maintain our beaches; not even close.”

An engineering sketch shows details of the borrow areas the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to use for renourishment of a 1.6-mile stretch of Lido Key Beach, on behalf of the City of Sarasota. Image courtesy FDEP

The reason no one to-date has agreed to a regional beach management system, he pointed out, is because “there’s lots of parochialism. … I don’t believe we will see any leadership or coordination from the state.”

Furthermore, he said he doubts that coastal engineering companies will be supportive of a regional approach, as that would reduce the number of potential clients for them.

Regional management will take “a certain amount of patience and compromise on the part of the policymakers,” Bullock added.

Inlet management already is within the purview of WCIND, Bullock told the county commissioners. WCIND probably oversees “more regional coastal projects than anybody else,” he said, and the organization has a “good management track record.”

“I think there’s a possibility there,” he added, though he was not certain WCIND even would be interested in taking on the role — and if it was, some reshaping of its mission likely would be necessary.

If WCIND declines, Bullock continued, the County and Longboat commissions should find out if any other jurisdiction would be interested in taking on the role of beach management.

Going forward

The WCIND homepage features this among its images. Photo from the website

“If you were the king of the universe — which we know you are not — what do you suggest as a better way?” County Commissioner Nancy Detert asked Bullock.

If he could make the decision, he replied, he would have WCIND expand its work for its four counties to include coastal management.

County Commission Chair Paul Caragiulo asked Bullock for clarification that Bullock was proposing that WCIND would serve as the applicant for beach renourishment projects and obtain the necessary permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

Bullock confirmed that that was his thinking, as WCIND already handles permitting for inland navigation projects.

If the WCIND potential does not prove out, he added, he believes the willingness to find another jurisdiction to take on the regional management role will increase.

Commissioner Charles Hines. File photo

If WCIND has no interest, County Commissioner Alan Maio responded, “we need to start the adventure ourselves. … It is the best opportunity.”

Maio then asked whether Hines — Sarasota County’s WCIND representative — would bring up the issue to the WCIND board. If the Hines’ colleagues on that board are reluctant, Maio said, then each of the four counties should appoint a commissioner as a delegate to a separate meeting, to try to start formal discussions about another way to approach the issue.

“This is a political problem, as we all know,” Caragiulo added. “I can’t for the life of me figure out why the state doesn’t look at this as their issue … People have been very reluctant to depoliticize this issue. It’s just not serious enough for a lot of them yet, but it will get there.”

Noting that he will be retiring in January 2018, Bullock responded that he has been observing projects on the west coast of Florida for 23 years. “We are not in a good place in managing our coastline. … The raw material to protect ourselves will become more and more scarce,” he added. “How can we not try to find a better way?”

“Your arguments, Dave, make absolute common sense,” Commissioner Hines told Bullock. “Obviously, WCIND has incredible expertise,” and it has a “great relationship” with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “It would make sense to expand [its mission].”

Already, Hines continued, the WCIND board has been working on a regional approach to handling the issue of derelict boats. “I am happy to take [this] to our board and discuss it. … Continuing to do [beach renourishment] the way we’re doing it doesn’t make sense.”

Hines said he would report to both the County and Longboat Town commissions on the results of the discussion.