Siesta Seen

SOSS2 to host Nov. 27 kickoff of special matching fund drive for federal lawsuit; SKA representatives get a private meeting with FDEP secretary to discuss Lido shoreline issues; Jason Mruczek earns Sheriff’s Office promotion; and reminder offered about Village motorcycle parking regulations

SOSS2 has used this logo on its website. Image courtesy of SOSS2

Save Our Siesta Sands 2 (SOSS2) is launching a special matching funds drive as part of the National Giving Challenge, the nonprofit has announced.

The dollars raised will pay for the expert witnesses who will be called to testify in the federal lawsuit SOSS2 will file in late November in a new effort to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from dredging Big Sarasota Pass and the shoal that protects Siesta Key, a news release explains.

An event to kick off the drive will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, which is located at 5615 Midnight Pass Road on Siesta Key.

Jono Miller, “celebrated environmentalist and speaker,” will address why maintaining the shoal and Big Pass is critical to Siesta Key’s environmental future, the release adds. Miller is the retired director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida.

Information will be provided on Nov. 27 about the damage the USACE dredge of Big Pass could have on the Siesta Key economy and property values, the release continues.

A graphic created by Jono Miller shows the developments on Lido Key seaward of the 1948 vegetation line. Image courtesy Jono Miller

“How can this SOSS2 federal suit to stop the dredge be successful when the first step in the legal process, an Administrative Hearing, did not succeed?” the release asks.

The latter proceeding, which was conducted under the guidelines of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), required SOSS2 and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) to prove that the dredging of the pass would cause damage to Siesta, the release explains. Witnesses the two nonprofits hired for that December 2017 administrative hearing discussed flaws they had found in the modeling and other research the USACE used to conclude that no harm would come to Siesta, the release adds. For example, even a peer review of the USACE proposal for the Lido Renourishment Project, which the Sarasota County Commission paid for a couple of years ago, found that the USACE did not use a state-of-the-art, three-dimensional system for a significant part of its analysis. Instead, the peer review pointed out, the USACE used a proprietary 2D system.

Testimony of SOSS2 and SKA witnesses during the DOAH proceeding also showed that the USACE failed to even consider how the dredging would change wave action and the impact of weather events on Siesta Key, the release adds. However, the administrative law judge ruled that the testimony was not sufficient to prevent the state from issuing a permit for the dredging, the release points out.

The SOSS2 federal lawsuit will be based on how the USACE’s proposal for removing sand from Big Pass violates federal law. It also will address the USACE’s failure to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement on the dredging plans.

Anyone wishing to attend the meeting must email, the release adds.

A good meeting with FDEP secretary

This is a photo Brooke Welch has taken of the area just offshore of the old groin on Lido Key Beach. Image from Sarasota Ocean Preservers on Facebook

It is not every day that someone outside of state government gets a private meeting with the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Yet, that is exactly what Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), and her husband, Robert, a member of the nonprofit’s Environmental Committee, were able to do early this month.

Catherine Luckner offered some details about the experience when she addressed SKA members on Oct. 4.

Luckner characterized it as a “small meeting,” face-to-face with Secretary Noah Valenstein.

They talked about the fact that the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan calls for inlet management plans to be created for all the county’s waterways, she continued, but neither Big Sarasota Pass nor New Pass is governed by one. “So we’re moving in that direction.”

Perhaps even more importantly, Luckner pointed out, she and Robert Luckner were able to discuss with Valenstein research that a Sarasota teenager has undertaken about the area of the Gulf of Mexico just off South Lido Key Beach. The focus of Brooke Welch’s studies, Catherine Luckner reminded the SKA members, has been the water around “the really big groin that’s next to the public beach on Lido.”

Luckner said she expected that groin is about 70 years old.

This is another photo, taken in December 2017, of the area offshore of the Lido groin. Image from Sarasota Ocean Preservers on Facebook

The Luckners showed Valenstein some of the photos Brooke has taken of coral and hardbottom near the groin, Catherine Luckner continued. Such natural resources, Luckner explained, help build up and protect a shoreline. “It’s something that the DEP did not look at,” she said, in the context of the application from the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to undertake a 50-year renourishment project on South Lido.

As explained in a Florida Museum article, “Hardbottom reef communities are found close to shore over limestone rock covered by a thin sandy layer. … Hardbottom habitats provide important cover and feeding areas for many fish and invertebrates.”

The discovery of that hardbottom, Luckner continued, could lead to FDEP providing grant funds to the county for research to support that natural system of shoreline protection.

The Luckners had downloaded materials and video from Brooke on a pin drive, Catherine Luckner said, so Valenstein would have them to review with FDEP staff. “It’s kind of exciting to me,” she added with a smile.

During an Oct. 16 telephone interview, Luckner told the News Leaderthat she also had included Brooke’s contact information on the pin drive.

She declined to offer any specific information on how the private meeting with Valenstein came about, other than to say it was through “a personal connection” with someone in Sarasota.

“I felt like this is somebody who cares,” she added of her impression of Valenstein after spending time with him. “It was a very good meeting.”

This photo shows the varied underwater environment offshore of the groin on Lido Key Beach. Image from Sarasota Ocean Preservers on Facebook

During the SKA’s regular session on July 6, 2017, Brooke used slides to illustrate a presentation about her work near the groin off Lido. She noted that she had established a Facebook page, Sarasota Ocean Preservers, to let the public know about her findings and to encourage conservation. She takes photos and video while snorkeling, she explained.

As of that time, she had identified 140 species in the water, she said, stressing the “immense biodiversity for such a small area.”

Just the previous day, she pointed out, she had identified three more species. She had been unable to find any evidence that one of them, an anemone, had ever been catalogued by marine researchers. “It’s not a defined species yet.”

Brooke also talked of the harm that can come to the marine life that makes its home around the groin. For example, she said, often, when fishermen tangle lines in the groin, they just cut the lines without removing the hooks or lead weights. Fish can be harmed by that debris, she added.

Yet, the area is facing “an even greater threat” from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, she continued. In its plans for the long-range renourishment of South Lido, she pointed out, the federal agency wants to add about 50 feet of sand to the shoreline, which would bury and thus kill the marine life.

That was what happened when the City of Sarasota undertook a short-term renourishment of the beach in 2015, Brooke pointed out. Many species died, and in just a short time, she noted, all that sand had washed away.

Sgt. Mruczek now Lt. Mruczek — and off the Key

Lt. Jason Mruczek (left) receives congratulations from Sheriff Tom Knight. Photo courtesy Sheriff’s Office

During the October 2016 meeting of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), members greeted Sgt. Jason Mruczek, the new leader of the Siesta Key substation of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

As a deputy, Mruczek had worked on the island in years past. In 2014, he was promoted to sergeant. As of Oct. 18, Mruczek is a lieutenant.

A Sheriff’s Office announcement about recent promotions included that news, adding that Mruczek had been assigned to the office’s Law Enforcement Division.

In response to a News Leader question, Mruczek wrote in an Oct. 18 email, “[Y]es I have left the key. They should have my replacement by the end of next week I hope.”

The News Leader later learned that Deputy Chris McGregor, who has been a fixture on the island for many years, is filling in as leader of the substation until the replacement begins work.
Mruczek promised to let the News Leaderknow when the new substation leader has been appointed.

A Sheriff’s Office news release about Mruczek’s promotion says that Mruczek began his law enforcement career in 2000 as a public service aide with the Rochester Police Department in New York. “He earned his law enforcement certification in 2002,” it adds, and he was hired by the Sheriff’s Office in 2003. Mruczek worked in the Patrol Bureau for several years before transferring to the Siesta Key substation.

The news release noted that Mruczek graduated from the Sheriff’s Office Leadership academy in 2014. Twice, it said, he has been nominated for Employee of the Month.

Additionally, the release continued, Mruczek has taken several advance courses through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Most recently, he graduated from FBI-LEEDA’s 306th Command Institute for Law Enforcement Executives. (FBI-LEEDA is a nonprofit corporation whose members are primarily “chief executive officers of law enforcement agencies, directors and commissioners of public safety, and elected sheriffs throughout the United States and numerous foreign countries,” its website says. Its mission, the website explains, is “to advance the science and art of law enforcement leadership and promote the exchange of information to improve law enforcement management practices through training, education, and networking among police professionals across the United States and beyond.)

“Mruczek earned his associate’s degree from Monroe Community College and continues to work towards obtaining his bachelor’s degree,” the release concluded.

This reporter can add that Mruczek was always very fast to respond to emails, which is a big help to any news publication.

And speaking of Lt. Mruczek …

The motorcycle parking spaces in Siesta Village are across from the Sandal Factory. Rachel Hackney photo

A regular reader emailed the News Leader late last week after learning first-hand about Jason Mruczek’s promotion from sergeant to lieutenant in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

The reader, it turns out, had contacted the substation on the Key about a complaint: The owner of a scooter recently had been keeping it in one of Siesta Village’s motorcycle parking spaces for much of the day on a regular basis.

Those spaces have two-hour limits, the reader reminded the News Leader.