Sarasota County wins almost $3.5 million in state grant funds for use in red tide cleanup efforts

Conditions show improvement this week, FWC and county staff report

This is a photo of the Gulf of Mexico taken on Aug. 24, about 12 miles off the Siesta Key shoreline. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
These are conditions offshore of Siesta Key on Aug. 30. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Most Consent Agenda items win passage without a word from a Sarasota County commissioner.

On Aug. 24, however, Commissioner Christian Ziegler took a couple of minutes during his report to his colleagues to offer appreciation to the State of Florida for $3,489,307 in grant funds for red tide cleanup efforts.

With their unanimous vote approving the Aug. 24 Consent Agenda of routine business items, the commissioners authorized County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to execute any documents associated with the funding.

A staff memo provided to the board members in advance of that Aug. 24 meeting explained, “Staff from multiple departments have worked together to take appropriate action to address the impacts of the red tide bloom present in Sarasota County.” It added that activities, including providing regular updates to the public, collecting and tracking a variety of data about daily conditions and operations, and the monitoring and cleaning of county-operated beaches and parks, “are ongoing.”

County staff members meet with FDEP and FWC representatives on July 28. County Administrator JonathanLewis is at far right, while Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Director Nicole Rissler is seated at top right. Image courtesy Sarasota County via Facebook

On July 28, the memo continued, county leaders met with representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) “to discuss the impacts of red tide. There are opportunities for reimbursement of costs associated with the response and management of red tide within the County through a grant agreement with FDEP.”

That agreement, the memo noted, “was prepared in partnership” with the City of Sarasota, the city of Venice and the Town of Longboat Key. “It will provide financial support for the costs associated with red tide management efforts,” including contracted services, equipment and overtime pay “for biological debris removal,” the memo said.

The estimated overall costs for the county and those municipalities is as follows, the memo noted:

  • Sarasota County — $2,499,225.93.
  • Town of Longboat Key — $506,720.
  • City of Sarasota — $422,968.75.
  • City of Venice — $60,392.

The agreement says it will expire 120 days from the date of execution.

Further, the document explains that the recipient of the grant is to be paid “on a cost reimbursement basis for all eligible Project costs,” after the grantee has completed and submitted the required information to FDEP, and the payments have been approved. “A final payment request,” the document adds, “shall be submitted to [FDEP] no later than [60] days following the expiration of the Agreement to ensure the availability of funds for payment. However, all work performed pursuant to the Grant Work Plan must be performed on or before the [expiration date].”

This is a view of Venice Inlet on Aug. 20. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During his board report, Ziegler told his colleagues, “I just want to thank the State of Florida for working with us on this. I know that’s been an issue a lot of people have raised in terms of the dead fish along the beaches,” Ziegler continued. “Obviously, we don’t get onto private property, but keeping public beaches clean is good for tourism and good for our citizens.”

In an Aug. 27 red tide update — sent out three days after the County Commission meeting — FWC reported that it had found bloom concentrations — more than 100,000 cells of the red tide algae, Karenia brevis, per liter in eight Sarasota County samples collected over the previous week. The report added that the algae was observed in background to high concentrations in the county over the same period.

Along with Sarasota County over the seven days leading up to Aug. 27, FWC noted that Citrus, Hernando, Pinellas, Manatee, Charlotte and Lee counties had dealt with fish kills believed to be related to red tide. Respiratory irritation was a factor in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte, Lee, Pinellas and Hernando counties, the report said.

FWC has continued to issue red tide updates twice a week since Jan. 6.

In its Aug. 27 red tide update, county staff noted that minor amounts of fish and aerosol impacts had been observed on the county shoreline. “Routine mechanical beach raking occurred at Siesta and Venice beaches and hand removal of fish occurred at North Jetty Park [in Venice],” the report noted.

The county’s “Red Tide Dashboard” for Aug. 27 cited minor fish kills at the Venice and Nokomis beaches, with minor aerosol problems on South Lido, Manasota, Nokomis and Venice beaches.

This is the county’s Red Tide Dashboard with data from Aug. 31 and Sept. 1. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The wind was out of the east most of the day on Aug. 27, the National Weather Service reported at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. The wind shifted to the northeast just before 3 p.m. that day.

On Aug. 31, the county’s red tide update noted that when staff members of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department evaluated the public beaches and access points that morning, they found mostly minor marine debris. Beach raking occurred on Venice Island and Siesta Key.

By Sept. 1, when FWC issued its mid-week report, the agency noted that, over the prior seven days, only background to low concentrations of red tide had been found in five water samples taken in Sarasota County. Nonetheless, FWC added that fish kills suspected to be related to red tide had occurred in the county over the previous seven days, and respiratory irritation remained a factor for shoreline visitors.

This is Venice Inlet on Aug. 30. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The National Weather Service data from midafternoon on Aug. 29 through midafternoon on Sept. 1 showed variable winds through that period. Sept. 1 began with southwest winds, the report said, but, just before 2 p.m., the wind was out of the northwest.

For information about fish kills, aerosol status, seaweed accumulation, and beach cleaning, visit the Sarasota County Red Tide Dashboard, which is updated daily about 11:30 a.m.

This graphic shows the red tide forecast for Southwest Florida for the period of Sept. 1-4. Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the University of South Florida

For more details about individual beach conditions, visit Mote Marine Laboratory’s https://www.visitbeaches.org/map.

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