Siesta Seen

FPL working on hurricane-hardening efforts on the Key; the Breeze’s morning hours extended; county staff explains lack of CodeRed alert about sewage spill; SOSS2 announces a milestone; and residents work with Sarasota County to adopt a road

Tree limbs are entwined in power lines on Ogden Street on Siesta Key after Hurricane Irma swept through the county in September 2017. Florida Power & Light Co. is at work on hardening its poles and lines on the island to try to prevent outages. File photo

For several months, Siesta residents have been seeing plenty of signs of a hurricane-hardening project Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) is undertaking.

After receiving some inquiries about facets of the project, The Sarasota News Leader contacted FPL for more details.

In a July 17 email, FPL spokesman Matt Eissey wrote that the company’s “hardening project of the energy grid that serves Siesta Key began in April and is expected to last until the end of 2019. This includes replacing some concrete poles, many of which were installed in the 1960s, with new storm-hardened wood poles. The new wood poles are stronger than the existing concrete poles and are also more cost-efficient, allowing FPL to enhance the reliability of its service in good weather and bad.”

He added that, as with all its projects, “FPL is ensuring the work is completed safely.”

People may learn more about what “FPL is doing to continue providing reliable service at www.fpl.com/reliability,” he pointed out.

Additionally, anyone who wants to check on company projects in close proximity to his or her neighborhood may visit FPLmaps.com and enter the person’s address. A map pops up with the details.

When the News Leader chose a Tropical Circle address at random, the map that appeared said FPL is clearing vegetation from neighborhood power lines and from main power lines. Icons on the map show the work sites.

This is a graphic from FPLmaps.com showing areas where the company has been working on Siesta Key. Image courtesy FPL

Eissey also provided the News Leader with a fact sheet regarding the energy grid improvements the company will have completed in Sarasota County from 2006 through this year. Among the details are the following:

  • Will have installed 3,250 smart grid devices, including 161 automated switches on main power lines and 3,089 automated switches on neighborhood power lines “to help detect and prevent power issues and get life back to normal faster if outages occur.”
  • Will have upgraded and strengthened 46 main power lines, with 18 on the schedule for this year.
  • Will have trimmed trees and vegetation along 9,376 miles of power lines, an average of 721 miles per year. “Trees and other vegetation growing near power lines are a major cause of outages,” the fact sheet explains. By Dec. 31, the fact sheet notes, FPL is scheduled to have trimmed vegetation from 1,103 miles of its Sarasota County power lines.
  • Will have inspected all 85,639 power poles for strength. This year alone, inspections of 2,571 poles have been scheduled.
  • Will have inspected 272 main power lines, using advanced infrared cameras that help detect and address potential problems with equipment before outages occur. By the end of this year, FPL plans call for company workers to have completed inspections of 10 main power lines in the county.

The Breeze extends its morning hours 

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce announced in a July 18 email blast that the Siesta Key Breeze has extended its morning hours.

A banner installed in the spring of 2017 on the fence outside the playground area at Turtle Beach Park points out that the Siesta Key Breeze stops in the park. File photo

The trolley service begins at 8 a.m. each day of the week, the Chamber points out. Previously, the Breeze started its route from Turtle Beach Park to Siesta Village at 10 a.m.

The longer morning hours will continue through Labor Day, the email blast says.

From Sunday through Thursday, service continues until 10 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Breeze operates until midnight.

Typically, the trolley service has maintained shorter hours in the summer, after peak tourist season has ended.

Following up on the sewage spill

After Sarasota County reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) that 36,000 gallons of raw sewage had spilled in the Grand Canal on July 9, Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner told the News Leader that she and other board members were surprised that the county did not issue an alert via its CodeRed system. Residents who sign up for CodeRed receive notifications about public safety and emergency situations in the areas where they live.

Image from the county’s CodeRed webpage

Following up on that, the News Leader sought an explanation from Dave Cash, manager of the county’s Water/Wastewater Division. In a July 12 statement, Cash reported that the Public Utilities Department staff has been working to correct the issue that resulted in no CodeRed alert to residents living around the Grand Canal. He said staff would endeavor to make certain that a CodeRed notification would go out “if another spill occurs.”

“In addition,” he wrote in his email, “utilities staff continues to review the [spill] in order to identify additional enhancements to the [sewer] system.”

The spill at the Siesta Key Master Pump Station was attributed to an equipment malfunction in a county sewer system station on Lockwood Ridge Road.

The News Leader also learned this week that Jamie Carson, manager of the county’s Communications Department, interviewed Mike Mylett, director of the county’s Public Utilities Department, during a Facebook Live event last week, asking him about the lack of CodeRed notification.

Mylett’s responses mirrored the email from Cash. Mylett affirmed for Carson that the issuance of a CodeRed alert in such a situation is “standard protocol.”

Anyone who is not registered for CodeRed may visit the county website — www.scgov.net — and use the keyword “CodeRed” to visit the system webpage, where registration information is available.

SOSS2 achieves a milestone

In his 55th newsletter for Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), Chair Peter van Roekens this week had big news.

“For the past six years the Board and I have dedicated our lives to achieving two goals,” he wrote:
“1. Stopping the dredge of the Big Pass Shoal.
“2. Raising enough money to pay for our attorneys and expert witnesses so we can achieve our number one goal.”

“I am very relieved and pleased,” Van Roekens continued, “to announce that with the donations received after our last newsletter, we have reached our funding goals for this phase! I especially want to thank our Matching Fund donors and all our friends, family and those members who we do not know personally, who have so steadfastly contributed to achieve this result.”

Image from the nonprofit’s website

He added, “Now, with renewed energy, we can devote all our attention to our primary goal of stopping the dredge of the Big Pass Shoal.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Sarasota have proposed publicly since late summer of 2013 to remove sand from Big Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach. SOSS2 was established as a Florida nonprofit organization in March 2014 to fight those plans, fearing that the dredging of the pass — which never has been done — would lead to severe property damage on Siesta Key and drastically impede navigation in the waterway. (See the related story in this issue.)

As van Roekens has pointed out on numerous occasions, SOSS2 is fully supportive of the proposal to stabilize the Lido Beach. However, he and his board members and supporters believe the sand should come from a different source.

In January, SOSS2 filed a lawsuit against the USACE in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, arguing that the USACE has violated a number of federal policies by proceeding with plans for the Lido project without ever having conducted an in-depth analysis called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The USACE has maintained that its modeling shows no harm will come to Big Pass or Siesta Key if it dredges the pass.

In his newsletter this week, Van Roekens reported that SOSS2 had sought the court’s approval to file additional materials for the case record.

This is the federal courthouse in Tampa. Image from the court website

The USACE did submit into the record one of the documents on the SOSS2 list of materials the nonprofit believes the court should review, van Roekens added. The USACE conceded that its failure to provide that material to the court was an oversight. However, the USACE has argued against the inclusion of the rest of the supplemental materials SOSS2 cited in its June 6 motion.

After the judge reviews the latest filings by the USACE and SOSS2 related to the administrative record, van Roekens wrote, SOSS2 would file its opening motion for summary judgment in the case. He anticipates that will take place in August.

“[W]e expect a ruling in this case early next year,” he added in the newsletter, although the original timeline the court laid out indicated the litigation likely would be concluded late this fall.

If the USACE attempts to begin dredging the pass before the case has been completed, van Roekens pointed out, SOSS2 will file for an injunction to stop that initiative.

“Again, we thank our members for their outstanding support, and we hope we can prevail in this critical defense of Siesta Key,” he concluded the newsletter.

A new Adopt-A-Road initiative

Michael Shay. File photo

Anyone who knows Siesta resident Michael Shay knows he is passionate about trying to keep the Key clean.

For years, Shay and his wife, Maria, have volunteered for the special events sponsored by Keep Sarasota County Beautiful (KSCB).

Now the Shays formally have adopted their own stretch of road through KSCB.

After the couple arrived on the island in 2009, Shay told the News Leader, he learned that the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and the Siesta Key Village Association were involved in the KSCB Adopt-A-Road program. (The Village Association was folded into the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce a number of years later.)

The two organizations were responsible for two stretches of road, Shay continued: Ocean Boulevard from Higel Avenue to Beach Road, and Midnight Pass Road from Stickney Point Road to Turtle Beach.

Shay — who served for several years on the SKA board — added that, in February, he received the following email from the county:

“Requests were sent out via email in December 2018 and January 2019 asking Adoption Partners to renew their commitment to the Keep Sarasota County Beautiful Adoption Program for this calendar year. Since we did not receive the renewal paperwork for this year, I wanted to reach out personally to follow up.

“If you are interested in continuing in the adoption program, please complete BOTH the renewal Application and Agreement of Maintenance by February 28.

“If you are no longer interested in participating, please respond as such and we will remove you from the program.

“We thank you for your past service to Keep Sarasota County Beautiful and hope to continue working with you in the future!”

Shay told the News Leader that he forwarded the email to SKA President Catherine Luckner and to Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber. He also told the KSCB staff that if the SKA and the Chamber did not renew their adoptions with the county, he would be interested in adopting the Ocean Boulevard section. “And so I did!” he added.

Shortly after he signed the agreement with KSCB on June 18, he continued, Luckner called him to ask if the SKA could partner with him on the initiative. She told him that the nonprofit had intended to renew its participation in the Adopt-A-Road program, but the person responsible for communicating with the county had failed to act in a timely fashion.

Shay said he declined the partnership offer.

On the morning of July 12, he continued, he was running errands when he noticed that a county crew had just finished installing a KSCB sign on the north end of Ocean Boulevard. A similar one was to be erected at the south end of the road, he added.

The KSCB sign says, “Adopted by Michael & Maria Shay & Friends.”

Image courtesy of Michael Shay

“I had spoken to friends about this [plan to keep the road segment clean] and have folks interested in volunteering, which is great!” Shay told the News Leader.

The group will clean the road bimonthly, he pointed out, even though the county requires a minimum of one cleanup initiative per quarter.

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