Document’s execution part of FDEP permit requirements prior to any dredging in Big Pass
On May 20, the Sarasota City Commission will be asked to authorize Mayor Liz Alpert and Interim City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to execute an agreement that is required before the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can begin their planned long-term Lido Renourishment Project.
City Manager Tom Barwin and City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw have continued to assert that that initiative will get underway this fall, even though two lawsuits are pending over the proposal.
The agreement the commission will address on May 20 pertains to the mitigation of seagrass expected to be destroyed by the removal of up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass and the pass’ ebb shoal to renourish about 1.56 miles of South Lido Key Beach.
On Sept. 27, 2016, DavisShaw appeared before the Manatee County Commission to make a formal request: that the County Commission approve the city’s use of Manatee’s Perico Preserve as the seagrass mitigation site.
Manatee County constructed the Perico Preserve to enable or provide for seagrass mitigation for public projects, Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department, pointed out to the Manatee commissioners that day.
The Perico Preserve basin comprises 16.4 acres, according to a staff memo prepared for that meeting. Seagrass mitigation habitat was proposed for 12.25 of those acres, the memo noted.
In an Aug. 1, 2016 letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure in Boca Raton, the consultant for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Lido Renourishment Project, wrote that the city and the USACE proposed to plant a species of seagrass “within 2.8 acres” of the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin for the mitigation.
“Manatee County will survey the area to be used as the mitigation site,” DavisShaw pointed out in a May 7 memo to the city commissioners, and then the county will “harvest and plant the seagrasses pursuant to the plan in our permit. … The FDEP permit requires 2.9 acres of mitigation — [instead of 2.8] — if the area is planted prior to the existing seagrasses being [disturbed] by construction or 3.2 acres if the mitigation occurs after disturbance,” DavisShaw continued in the memo. “It is our intent to plant before the seagrasses are impacted …”
The seagrass mitigation will cost up to $1,128,749.84, reflecting the rate of $351,512.45 per acre cited in materials for the September 2016 Manatee County Commission meeting. Both the rate per acre and the total for the city/USACE plan are included in the draft of the agreement provided to the City Commission in advance of the May 20 meeting.
The total expense of the Lido Renourishment Project, which DavisShaw also noted in her memo, is $19,205,073. The USACE is expected to pay $12,275,626, with the city and the state splitting the remaining $6,295,753.84.
After DavisShaw addressed the Manatee County Commission in September 2016, then-Chair Vanessa Baugh noted that no one had signed up to speak on the topic. When Baugh asked for a motion, Commissioner Carol Whitmore made it, approving the city’s request. Commissioner Robin DiSabatino seconded it, and it passed unanimously.
Baugh pointed out that the agreement “shows that we want to be partners; we want to be regional partners.”
The Manatee board sent a letter to FDEP, referencing the Sept. 27 vote. It was addressed to Gregory Garis, the FDEP manager overseeing the City of Sarasota/USACE permit application. The letter explained that the Manatee Commission had voted “to authorize use of Perico Preserve as mitigation for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction (HSDR) Project.” The vote, the letter continued, “includes authority for [Manatee] County staff to continue coordination with the City of Sarasota and [the USACE] to modify existing Perico Preserve permits to facilitate a seagrass mitigation for the HSDR project.”
When FDEP issued its Joint Coastal Permit to the City of Sarasota and the USACE in June 2018, that document included a number of requirements necessary before the department would issue its formal Notice to Proceedfor the Lido initiative. One of those requirements says, “The Permittees and Manatee County shall prepare and sign a legally binding Site Agreement describing the delegation of responsibilities for all mitigation activities (i.e., seagrass planting, monitoring, and subsequent maintenance of the mitigation site), which shall be completed pursuant to the Mitigation and Monitoring Plan, approved December 2016.”
“Now that the project is scheduled for construction this Fall,” DavisShaw wrote of the Lido initiative in her May 7 memo to the City Commission, “it is time to implement the [mitigation] plan.”
The City Commission meeting will begin at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, May 20, at City Hall, which is located at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota.
The seagrass mitigation contract is the fifth item on Consent Agenda No. 1. The commission is scheduled to address those routine business items after Citizens’ Input Concerning City Topics — which is limited to 30 minutes at 3 minutes per person; and then consideration of three sets of meeting minutes.
Questions raised early on about the mitigation plan
SOSS2 is engaged in litigation against the USACE in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, while the SKA is preparing for a July hearing on a complaint it filed against the City of Sarasota in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota.
In a Sept. 1, 2016 email to The Sarasota News Leader, Catherine Luckner, now SKA president, wrote that nonprofit objected to the use of Perico Preserve partly on the basis of the plan’s noncompliance with an FDEP regulation calling for homogeneity of a mitigation site with the seagrass areas that will be destroyed by a project.
Further, at that time, she pointed out, research she and her husband, Robert — an SKA Environmental Committee member — had undertaken showed that Perico Preserve is “a borrow pit area that doesn’t have any direct access” to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Manatee County later did create two channels from the preserve to the bay, according to an FDEP environmental consultant. Those channels were part of Phase 3 of the project, as detailed in a document that consulting firm Stantec of Sarasota produced about Perico Preserve. That phase was to consist of “connecting the created basin to Perico Bayou to facilitate the recruitment of seagrass and constructing trails and boardwalks …”
As for the SOSS2 concerns: In an August 2016 letter to FDEP — commenting on the USACE’s response to the state’s second request for additional information as the federal agency pursued the Joint Coastal Permit — Martha Collins, then the SOSS2 attorney, pointed out, “Seagrass mitigation does not always work.” In some instances in regard to the Lido project, she argued, the USACE had failed to consider area-wide consequences, “even claiming there will be no impacts to seagrass beds as [those] fall outside a zone of potential impact.”
Furthermore, the letter said that the city and the USACE have “failed to show they can financially protect or monitor the impacts to seagrass beds” during the initial dredging, “let alone [during] the projects that will be required every five years for maintenance [of South Lido Beach].”
During a December 2017 Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding in Sarasota, the SKA and SOSS2 challenged the authorization of the Lido project. One witness, Jennifer Peterson, an environmental consultant with FDEP’s Beaches, Inlets, and Ports Program, testified about the seagrass mitigation plans of the city and the USACE.
Peterson explained under cross-examination that she understood that Perico Preserve “was used for agriculture in the past.”
In response to a question from SOSS2 attorney Collins, Peterson said the waters in Perico Preserve are 1.5 to 2 feet deep, based on a summary she had prepared after a visit to the preserve.
When Collins then asked how deep Big Pass’ waters are, Peterson said, “They are variable.”
After Collins asked her to narrow her answer to the shoals, Peterson responded that the shoal she visited in August 2016 had water “somewhere around 9 to 12 feet deep, to the best of my recollection.”
Later, replying to Collins’ questioning, Peterson acknowledged that she found filamentous algae on the bottom of Perico Preserve. “When you’re planning for a seagrass mitigation project,” Peterson said, “you need to anticipate any potential difficulties. Sometimes if there is a lot of drift algae in the system or filamentous macroalgae, it may smother seagreasses or it may preclude recruitment [of seagrasses].”
She had taken a photo of the algae, Peterson continued, “to illustrate one of the tactics that may need to be put in place if this doesn’t recede before planting, that the [city and the USACE] … would need to potentially have an adaptive management plan to ensure that the bay bottom is clear of this type of algae before moving forward with the planting.”
Upon further questioning, Peterson also testified that she had found epiphytes on some of the seagrass blades in the mitigation area, indicating “that there probably were slightly higher [levels of] nutrients … in this area than I would consider [for] an optimal seagrass community, but I do feel like this was a highly functional seagrass community at the time of my site inspection.”
(Just last week, Sarasota County staff reported to the County Commission on the destruction of more than 700 acres of seagrass in county waterways as a result of the red tide bloom that persisted for months offshore. The red tide algae thrives on nutrients in the waters, researchers have explained.)
Later in the DOAH proceeding, responding to John R. Herin Jr., the outside counsel for the City of Sarasota, Peterson said that the draft of the FDEP project permit “requires at least 2.9 acres of seagrass habitat to be created for offsetting the 1.68 acres of seagrass habitat that falls within the [Big Pass] borrow areas that [is] expected to be impacted.”
“So, yes,” Peterson added, “there will be more seagrass habitat created at the mitigation site than will be impacted.”
“And if there is a need for additional mitigation through the monitoring of this … post-completion … then there will be … an imposition upon the city and the Corps to provide for additional mitigation, is that correct?” Herin then asked.
“That is correct,” Peterson replied.