Board members undecided still about whether to make property owners who opted out of the initiative help pay for it because of benefits they are expected to realize
It took almost exactly an hour and 50 minutes of discussion, comments from 13 speakers and four motions. Finally, the Sarasota County Commission agreed last week to pay 100% of the expense of the contractor’s mobilization of equipment for the county’s portion of the beach renourishment project on Manasota Key.
“We have to mobilize to get the equipment and the barge … to [Blind Pass Beach Park],” Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, pointed out on Feb. 25. Thus, the board could justify using Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue set aside for county beach renourishment initiatives to pay for the total expense of that effort, she said.
Additionally, the board members approved covering 47% of the expense of the placement of new sand on the beach, as the county’s Blind Pass Beach Park and its Hermitage Artist Retreat also will benefit from the renourishment. That money also will come out of Tourist Development Tax revenue allocated to county beach renourishment initiatives.
Further, the commissioners concurred that property owners on the bay side of Manasota Key who have easements to the Gulf shoreline should share in the expense of the project.
Commissioner Charles Hines talked of the numerous times he has driven the Manasota Key shoreline and seen “For Sale” signs on bayfront properties. In every case, he emphasized, the top line on the sign said, “Beach Access.”
“There’s a clear value that’s being added by this beach being expanded,” Hines added, not only from a recreational standpoint but also from the perspectives of stabilizing Manasota Key Road, which has suffered significant damage from erosion in the past, and providing general protection to the key itself.
Herman told the commissioners that 127 people on the bay side have those easements.
Commissioner Christian Ziegler agreed with the need to include those in the funding formula.
However, the commissioners were split about removing what staff has called the “gap” property owners from any obligation to assist with paying for the renourishment. As Herman explained last year, 23 property owners in the middle section of the beach opted out of the project because they said they did not need new sand.
Among residents in that group who addressed the commission on Feb. 25, Suzette Flood said she lives “right in the middle of the gap” and has a 200-foot-wide beach in front of her home. “We vigorously object to adding the 23 gap properties to the MSBU [Municipal Services Benefit Unit].”
She was referring to a funding mechanism staff has used to help pay for the two South Siesta Key Beach renourishment projects undertaken within past years. The same mechanism has been included in planning for the Manasota Key initiative.
Donna Delahanty, another gap parcel owner, agreed with Flood. Delahanty and her family opted out, she said, because “We wanted to maintain our private property rights,” and they have plenty of sand in front of their home, as well.
Conversely, Jim Jackson, the newly elected president of the Manasota Key Association, urged the commissioners to use the MSBU for the entire renourishment area.
Long-time island resident Betty Gawthrop pointed out, “I think we all ought to contribute some,” though at different levels. “I do think it’s everybody’s joy to have this key.”
William Hilburn III, another property owner, concurred with Gawthrop and Jackson.
In response to commissioners’ questions about the MSBU, Deputy County Attorney Karl A. Senkow explained, “There’s no single defined methodology the board has to use.” Typically, he continued, a person is assessed according to the amount of linear feet of property the person owns on the affected beach. To justify that annual bill, Senkow added, a third-party evaluation is conducted beforehand to show how much economic gain the property owner would realize from the project.
A comprehensive analysis by a consultant, he continued, would help determine how much of an assessment should be charged to Manasota Key property owners on the bay side of the island, too.
As the board members considered their options after the public remarks on Feb. 25, Commissioner Nancy Detert told her colleagues she needed more time to consider the ramifications of excluding the gap property owners from participating in the MSBU. “I think that’s a precedent-setting situation.”
The fourth motion that day — made by Commissioner Alan Maio — called for that exclusion but having the county cover 47% of the total expense. Commissioner Ziegler seconded that motion.
Then Chair Michael Moran voiced concern similar to Detert’s.
As a result, Maio ended up withdrawing that motion and making a new one focused on the 47% figure.
Herman told the board members that their Feb. 25 decisions would allow staff to work on new calculations regarding potential scenarios for divvying up the remaining 53% of the renourishment expense among Manasota Key Beach property owners in the affected area.
The funding facts
Herman last appeared before the commissioners on Dec. 10, 2019, when she presented figures regarding the amount of MSBU assessment Manasota Key property owners would have to pay without the inclusion of the 23 gap parcels.
The annual figure for the six property owners in the northern project segment was $15,414 for a 150-foot-wide beach; for those on the southern end, $23,120.
The assessment period planned was seven years. Herman noted on Feb. 25, that staff used that timeline in the Manasota Key funding scenarios because that was the period encompassed in the South Siesta Key Beach renourishment initiatives. The period could be eight years, instead of seven, she said.
After their December 2019 discussion, the board members directed staff to work on other funding scenarios, agreeing that the assessments Herman had presented them were too high for Manasota Key property owners.
On Feb. 25, Herman said the total cost of the project has been put at $10,025,357. A state grant will cover 35% of that, she noted.
Given the vote that day for the county to cover the entire mobilization cost, the remaining local share would be $4,485,484, Herman pointed out.
If 47% of that latter amount were covered by the county, then the amount to be funded by the MSBU would be $2,377,307 — without any contribution from the gap residents, she showed the board.
Herman reminded the commissioners on Feb. 25 that the southern segment of the Manasota Key project encompasses 0.56 miles. It runs from one lot north of the property at 6310 Manasota Key Road, south to 6010 Manasota Key Road.
The northern segment — 0.77 miles — encompasses six Gulf-front properties from 6840 to 6630 Manasota Key Road.
Sarasota County is collaborating with Charlotte County on the initiative.
Herman also noted that she has heard from Manasota Key property owners that “construction is underway,” with mobilization staging taking place in Blind Pass Beach Park and in Charlotte County. The contractor’s barge, she added, was due from Savannah no later than March 1.
The construction will take place first on the Charlotte County side, Herman continued, according to the interlocal agreement the Sarasota County commissioners approved with their Charlotte County counterparts. Nonetheless, she noted, Sarasota County staff anticipates the project on its side to be completed by the end of April, before sea turtle-nesting season officially begins on May 1.
One other issue Herman broached on Feb. 25 regarded staff’s efforts to obtain temporary construction easements so the contractor could cross the gap parcels with the pipeline through which new sand would be placed on the beach on opposite sides of that area. That would prevent “having to float the pipe” in the Gulf, she explained, and save the county about $900,000.
During the public remarks, Flood and another gap property owner, Rebecca Cook, both noted their willingness to give staff the temporary easements.
By the time the discussion was winding down that day, Herman told the commission that staff had obtained half the necessary easements, thanks to talks with Manasota Key residents who were present that afternoon.