Siesta Seen

Illegal parking tickets and garbage volume illustrate a busy July Fourth; SKA leaders point to clear signs of ‘boat channel’; City of Sarasota attorney provides update on legal fees in Big Pass dredging challenges; Crystal Classic plans announced; and some good news about the snowy plovers

Vehicles are backed up on the grounds of Siesta Public Beach, unloading visitors and waiting for parking spaces in the lot. Photo from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office via Twitter on July 4

A period of stormy weather leading up to July Fourth evidently did not deter people from making a beeline to Siesta Key for the holiday.

The Sarasota News Leader saw this Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office post on Twitter about 9:30 a.m. July 4: “It should come as no surprise … the lot at Siesta Key is officially FULL! If you’re headed that way, consider a ride sharing app like Uber or Lyft.”

One Siesta Isles resident wrote the News Leader to praise deputies for diligence in ticketing people who had parked illegally on her street, which is not far from the public beach.

As Sgt. Jason Mruczek, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key, has reported, the tickets have risen to $75.

Asked how many tickets officers wrote on the Fourth, Mruczek replied, “About 55,” in an email to the News Leader.

And in spite of efforts once again by the Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department staff and volunteers to encourage people to collect their trash and dispose of it properly, the News Leader heard from at least one volunteer with the Liberty Litter Cleanup on July 5 that conditions were quite awful.

The volunteer who spoke with the News Leader said that even before he made it to the beach shortly before 7 a.m. on July 5, he had heard from a friend who walks the beach around 5 a.m. each day that the shoreline was a disaster area, littered with tents, chairs and coolers.

A volunteer uses one of the yellow trash bags county staff and volunteers handed out on July 4 to collect trash on the public beach. Photo from Sarasota County Government via Twitter

Last year, county Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) staff reported during the July Siesta Key Association meeting that a bad storm that blew up the evening of the Fourth prompted many people to flee, leaving belongings behind. Again this year, a nasty storm arrived early in the evening of the Fourth. At least it blew over in time for the traditional fireworks show, as the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce directors and staff work so hard to raise sufficient funds to cover the expense of that production.

The Liberty Litter Cleanup volunteer who spoke with the News Leaderworked three sections of the public beach parking lot, where — he noted — no garbage receptacles are available. Among the types of debris he had to deal with were baby diapers; beer bottles; cans; beer cases; an “untouched ziti pizza, still in the water-soaked box; and a soft cooler full of plastic containers and food.

In response to a News Leader request, Keep Sarasota County Beautiful provided the following results for the Liberty Litter Cleanup this year, which covers many of the county’s beaches:

  • Total number of volunteers for all venues: 176.
  • Total number of volunteers for Siesta Key: 44.
  • Total number of hours of service for all venues: 330.5.
  • Total number of hours of service for Siesta: 88.
  • Total number bags of trash collected at all venues: 122.5.
  • Total number of bags of trash collected on Siesta: 36.

The Keep Sarasota County Beautiful staff added that 60 additional volunteers, “coordinated by the owner of The Beach Club, The Hub, The Cottage and Summer House restaurants in Siesta Village,” put in 120 hours of service to help clean up Siesta Beach on July 5.

Chris Brown is the owner of those Village establishments. Last year, Brown and his business partner, Mike Granthon, organized the same type of initiative for July 5.

On a related note: Michael Shay, who manages the Village upkeep for the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., said that on July 8, he had assistance in collecting the garbage from all the cans in the Village, since Sunday is not one of the regular pickup days for the firm that handles that responsibility.

“We filled the dumpster,” he said, referring to the structure in the Municipal Parking Lot between Avenida de Mayo and Avenida Madera.

The July Fourth holiday, Shay added, marked the busiest period for the Village since the week-and-a-half that included Easter.

If it looks like a boat channel …

The project application shows the area of renourishment and the borrow areas in Big Pass. Image courtesy State of Florida

Soon after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Sarasota announced their plans for the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a critically eroded area of South Lido Key Beach, Siesta residents began pointing to the proposed sand borrow areas and noting something distinctive about one of them.

Borrow Area — or “Cut” — C, they said, sure does look like a designated channel from Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet, as leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) have pointed out, that cut is especially troublesome for property owners on the northern area of Siesta Key and Bird Key. Those people are expected to suffer significant damage because of increased wave energy related to the Lido project, as shown by research undertaken by experts the SKA hired for the December 2017 Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) challenge to the Lido project.

“It’s time to start asking why the city is putting the residents of Lido at risk because that particular piece of sand is so important,” SKA President Gene Kusekoski said of the Big Pass sediment during the organization’s June 7 meeting. The 1.3 million cubic yards of sand that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the city have set their sights on, Kusekoski stressed, is “150% the size of The Vue and the Westin,” referring to the condominium complex and adjacent hotel at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue in downtown Sarasota.

Siesta organizations and residents opposed to the dredging of Big Pass have offered full support of renourishing South Lido, but they have called for the USACE and the city to use sand from another source.

During a recent telephone interview with the News Leader, Kusekoski emphasized, “Our biggest objection is this Cut C. … They’ve gone out of their way to say this is not a navigation channel,” he added, in spite of how it appears. Yet, he continued, “Once you dig that trench, you change the dynamic of the pass, and God knows what’s going to occur.”

The distinctive design of Borrow Area C has received new attention in the context of the efforts of the Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization (SBPO) to produce a plan for a new area with arts, cultural and public amenities on 53 acres of the City of Sarasota’s bayfront. Forty-two of those acres are owned by the city.

A June graphic shows the latest design for The Bay in downtown Sarasota. Image courtesy Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization

As part of the planning process for The Bay, the team from outside Boston that has been working on designs —Sasaki — also has spent a bit of time learning about the popularity of the city’s 10thStreet Boat Ramp.

During the June 7 meeting of the Siesta Key Association, (SKA) Director Joe Volpe reported on attending a session for boaters earlier that same week, during which SBPO and Sasaki representatives talked about plans for new restaurants on the bayfront and new docks.

Volpe explained that, as a boater himself, he is aware that the three channels that meet off Bird Key create a situation that can confuse people unfamiliar with the local waters. Additionally, he said, “It’s very shallow” in that location. “You can easily run aground,” as he himself has done in his 20-foot boat, he acknowledged.

If that area is dredged, he continued, the channel will be deep all the way to Marina Jack on the city’s bayfront.

Then Volpe talked about the SBPO meeting for boaters, noting that the goal with The Bay project is to create a “destination place.” for the public.

“Remember Bob’s Boathouse?” he asked the attendees at the SKA meeting.

Another graphic shows proposals for The Bay in regard to boating. Image courtesy Sarasota Bayfront Planning Organization

The original Bob’s Boathouse, on the northern end of Old Stickney Point Road, drew lots of complaints, Volpe pointed out, because of the high decibel levels and diesel fumes from vessels of patrons of that business who arrived on large boats.

Based on the plans he saw for The Bay, he said, the Sasaki team envisions large vessels tying up at new docks proposed on the city waterfront, so people can enjoy the restaurants and other amenities. And large boats mean deep drafts. A new channel from Big Pass into Sarasota Bay seems to fit into that plan, Volpe added. “Somebody with a lot of money wants this non-boat channel built.”

Volpe also reminded the audience members that the USACE plans call for dredging every five years to keep sand replenished on South Lido. “But they keep saying it’s not a boat channel.”

He also reminded the attendees of the old saying, “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

One audience member, Dr. Stephen Lexow, responded that if Volpe’s observations are correct, “It’s even more important that the [dredging] project be stopped.”

Speaking of the Big Pass dispute …

City Attorney Robert Fournier. File photo

At the News Leader’s request this week, City Attorney Robert Fournier provided an updated list of attorney’s fees and expenses in response to the SKA and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 legal challenges to the proposed dredging of Big Pass.

They are as follows:

  • $392,595.25 to GrayRobinson, the Fort Lauderdale law firm where the city’s outside counsel — John R. Herin Jr. — practices.
  • $203,829.20 to Lewis, Longman & Walker, the Bradenton firm that has been representing the Lido Key Residents Association, which intervened in both the SKA’s 12thJudicial Circuit Court case and the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding.

That total is $596,424.45, Fournier wrote in his July 10 email to the News Leader.

He then noted other expenses related to the legal challenges.

Thus, Fournier wrote, the overall total is $701,839.64.

In response to News Leader questions during a recent telephone interview, Fournier explained that the Lido Key Residents Association won agreement from Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin for the city to cover some of that organization’s legal expenses in fighting challenges to the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido.

Fournier earlier had noted that he and Herin of GrayRobinson have to approve any bills submitted by Lewis, Longman & Walker before the city pays them.

Asked about the justification for those payments, Fournier said that if Lewis, Longman & Walker had not been involved, then Herin would have had to have assistance from other staff at his firm, as he would have been unable to handle everything on his own. That would have necessitated extra city payments to GrayRobinson, Fournier added.

Crystal Classic dates announced

Sneak Peak proved among the most popular Crystal Classic sculptures in 2016. Image courtesy Crystal Classic

Organizers of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival have announced their dates for this fall.

From Nov. 9-12, 24 of the premier master sand sculptors from all over the world will be competing in the ninth installment of the event, a news release says.

Something new this year, the release notes, will be four additional sculptures created through doubles and solo competitions.

Since it began, the Crystal Classic has hosted more than 260,000 visitors on Siesta Public Beach, the release points out.

“In only 24 sculpting hours, (spanning the four-day event), the master sculptors create sand masterpieces and transform the always beautiful Siesta Beach into an outdoor art gallery,” the release explains. “The Crystal Classic connects the arts and the beach in ways never before seen in Sarasota.”

The visual arts are not the only feature, the release adds. Live music and a large village with shopping and food and drink vendors are part of the festivities. Among other activities are“the popular three-day ‘Quick Sand’ competition, sand sculpting lessons and an amateur sculpting competition,” the release points out.

The festival this year will be open on Saturday and Sunday until 9 p.m., with live music by Reverend Barry & The Funk on Saturday night and No Filter on Sunday night, the release says. “The party tent will be open and the sculptures will again be lit through a fabulous light display,” the release adds.

Moonlight Over the Pond was the 2017 winner of the People’s Choice Award for the Crystal Classic. Image courtesy of the Crystal Classic

“In 2017, the Siesta Key Crystal Classic generated some 16,000 hotel room nights,” the release notes, along with an economic impact on the county that exceeded $9 million, based on research undertaken for Visit Sarasota County. More than 60,000 attendees came to the event over the four days in 2017, the release adds.

For people worried about finding parking spaces at Siesta Public Beach during the event, the release explains that Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) provides Route 11 service daily to the Key. Attendees also may park at Turtle Beach Park and take the free Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley to the public beach park.

For more information and to purchase advance tickets and parking passes, visit the website at

Online ticket pricing is as follows, the release says:

  • Multi-day passes: $30 per adult and $15 per child.
  • One-day passes: $8, ($2 off gate pricing) per adult and $5 per child.
  • Reserved parking passes: Friday through Monday, ranging from $29 to $59.

Some good news about the snowy plovers

A snowy plover nests in an area near Siesta Public Beach. Photo by Kylie Wilson

On June 21, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Audubon’s Shorebird Monitoring & Stewardship Program, reported that she and her volunteers regularly had seen eight to 10 snowy plovers on Siesta, and several of the females looked “very heavy,” indicating the portent of eggs.

One of those birds was a female that has returned to the Key off and on through the years. She is banded, which makes her stand out in the group, Wilson noted.

Attaching a photo of that plover, Wilson directed attention to how big the plover was in the back. “[T]his is what we consider gravid or carrying eggs!” Wilson added.

She had more exciting news on July 5.

As of July Fourth, she wrote, “we were not aware of any active nesting on Siesta but yesterday TWO snowy plover nests were found by our volunteer, Dick!” One is in the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast buffer area, she reported, while the second “ is on the very north edge of the public beach! These nests are both very well hidden,” she continued. “I was lucky enough that both females showed me where they were,” she wrote. Otherwise, she added that she probably would not have known.

Wilson renewed her plea for volunteers to assist with keeping a watch over the nesting birds on the Key. Anyone interested in helping out may contact her at

She ended her update with a note of caution for volunteers: “Please do not sit or linger too close to the [posted nesting areas]. We would ideally have everyone sit 10 feet away.”

Keeping that distance is especially important, she stressed, given all the trouble with crow predation of nests on Siesta. People lingering near posted areas can draw crows’ attention, she pointed out.