Siesta Seen

SKA members get update on efforts to clean up Grand Canal; SKA ordered to pay Lido group attorneys’ fees; Condo Council’s Holiday Lighting Contest winners named; Santa to visit south Siesta Key; and ‘tale of two roads’ cited in FDOT public hearing on road swap


This is a slide Phil Chiocchioo presented to SKA members on Dec. 5, showing facets of the problems with the Grand Canal. Rachel Hackney photo

In October, in conjunction with a presentation on potential ways to clean up the Grand Canal, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) board expressed hope that the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum could win a grant through Sarasota County to help with one or more initiatives.

Such assistance will not happen, Phil Chiocchio of the Forum told about 40 SKA audience members on Dec. 5.

Howard Berna, manager of the county’s Environmental Permitting Division staff, said no West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) grant could assist with his proposals, Chiocchio added. The reason? “The Grand Canal is not a public waterway,” Chiocchio reported from Berna.

One hope Chiocchio had harbored was that WCIND money could be used to dredge a shoal in Roberts Bay, near the mouth of the Grand Canal, he reminded SKA members this month.

However, the shoal is too close to the canal’s mouth to be considered part of the public waters of Roberts Bay, he added. Thus, Berna had pointed out to him, Chiocchio indicated, that the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum should not even apply for a WCIND grant.

The mission of the multi-jurisdictional WCIND, its website explains, is “To preserve and enhance the commercial, recreational, and ecological values of waterways within the District we serve.”

Phil Chiocchio makes a point during his SKA remarks on Dec. 5. Rachel Hackney photo

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request for comments about what Berna told Chiocchio, county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant reported in an email, “Public funds through WCIND to perform the dredge at [the mouth of the Grand Canal] are not likely available.” She added, “Mr. Chiocchio was advised of permitting requirements for a maintenance dredge at that location, which would include a Sarasota County [Water and Navigation Control Authority] WNCA permit, [a Florida Department of Environmental Protection] FDEP permit and possibly [a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] permit.”

In October, Robert Luckner, an SKA director, indicated he also felt a mini reef project for the Grand Canal would stand a good chance of winning WCIND support. However, Berna reminded Grant — which she conveyed to the News Leader— that county staff still is working with FDEP on how the state might exempt or permit the installation of such devices. (See the related story in this issue.)

On Dec. 5, Chiocchio reiterated some of the remarks about the history and health of the Grand Canal that he made during his October SKA appearance. The 9-mile waterway was dug in 1925, he pointed out. The flow of water is poor, he explained, and “sediment has been filling the canal with a jelly-like mud.”

He asked the audience members to imagine that the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church — where the meeting was taking place — was the Grand Canal. The height of the ceiling, he said, reflected the depth of the canal when it was built.

Then he asked them to picture the door as the mouth of the canal at Roberts Bay, with the shoal essentially keeping the door half closed. “We’re not getting much flow right now.”

Because of the lack of water flow and low oxygen levels, he noted, the canal is not a welcoming environment for sea life. “What I’d like to do is figure out,” he continued, “as a concerned citizen, with others, how we could turn the [canal] into something that could be as internationally famous as the beach right across the street.”

A slide Phil Chiocchio showed SKA members on Oct. 3 provided footage of fish at a mini reef installed at the Mar Vista Restaurant on Longboat Key (left) and a photo taken underwater in the Grand Canal (right). File photo

Referring to county staff members’ stance on permitting of mini reefs, Chiocchio continued, “I sent ’em a nice little letter, which I haven’t heard back from.” He pointed out in that letter, he said, that the Grand Canal was dug decades ago without any permit. He also suggested that the canal should be put under the auspices of the SKA.

During his Dec. 5 presentation, Chiocchio elicited plenty of laughter from the audience members, in spite of the seriousness of his topic. For example, he began his remarks by saying, “This presentation has not been vetted for accuracy because I’m just a concerned citizen …”

He also used stills from the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show and stills from Seinfeld — including the latter’s famous episode featuring the “Soup Nazi” — to make many of his points.

SKA ordered to pay legal fees to Lido group

Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court website

A 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge has ruled that the Siesta Key Association (SKA) must pay attorneys’ fees to the Lido Key Residents Association, which has been an intervenor in the SKA’s lawsuit to try to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass.

In a Dec. 9 order, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh noted that a Dec. 2 hearing was conducted on a motion of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), seeking the reimbursement. The LKRA cited Section 403.412(f) of the Florida Statutes as the basis for its argument.

McHugh wrote in her order, “Intervenors are only entitled to attorney fees and costs that relate to the Count(s) asserting a claim pursuant to [that part of the Florida Statutes].”

She further ordered that the parties “conduct discovery pursuant to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure regarding the reasonableness and amount of attorneys’ fees and costs bought by the Lido Key Residents Association in this action.”

Additionally, she directed the parties “to attend mediation prior to setting a hearing before the Court to determine the amount of the award of attorneys’ fees and costs to [the LKRA]. To the extent that discovery reveals that the attorney fees and costs [the LKRA} seeks under this Order were not charged to or paid for by the [LKRA], Plaintiffs may schedule a hearing to address the issue of [the LKRA’s] entitlement to receive reimbursement for such attorney fees and costs.”

She also has ordered that the SKA pay attorneys’ fees to the City of Sarasota.

On Nov. 26, Kent Safriet of the Tallahassee firm Hopping Green & Sams, who has served as the SKA’s attorney in the case, filed a response to the LKRA motion for award of attorneys’ fees.

First, Safriet pointed out that the LKRA contended that it is a “prevailing party” in the lawsuit the SKA originally filed against the City of Sarasota in March 2017. “LKRA, however, is not even a ‘party’ to the lawsuit (much less a ‘prevailing party’),” Safriet wrote. It “is merely an intervenor.”

Kevin S. Hennessy is the primary attorney for the Lido Key Residents Association in the SKA case. Photo from the Lewis, Longman & Walker website

Citing a 1978 Florida Third District Court of Appeal decision, Safriet continued, “‘It is axiomatic that attorney’s fees cannot be properly awarded unless authorized by agreement of the parties or imposed statutorily.’ In this case, there was no agreement by any of the parties” — including the City of Sarasota — “with respect to attorney’s fees,” Safriet added.

During the Dec. 5 SKA meeting, Director Robert Luckner told attendees that the board members hope the Second District Court of Appeal “will relieve us” of the need to pay the LKRA attorneys’ fees. “I don’t know exactly how much it is,” he added. “We’ll have a lot of arm wrestling about that.”

As he had reported the previous month, Luckner also noted on Dec. 5 that the SKA directors had decided to appeal Judge McHugh’s Sept. 19 ruling in favor of the City of Sarasota in the case.

The LKRA filed tis motion in early August to seek recovery of its expenses in the case. It did not cite an amount.

Conversely, on Sept. 23, the City of Sarasota submitted an affidavit to the court, saying that its expenses through May 31 added up to $26,495.50.

The SKA for years has worked to prevent the removal of up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass — which never has been dredged — to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach. The City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) — which designed the project — received a state permit in June 2018 to allow the initiative to go forward.

In his Dec. 13 newsletter, City Manager Tom Barwin wrote that the USACE could issue a revised solicitation package for the undertaking as early as this week. The News Leader learned that that package was published on Dec. 17. (See the related story in this issue.)

In August, the USACE cancelled its original solicitation — published in May — because it said the two bids it received were “unreasonably high.”

Holiday Lighting Contest winners announced

As promised, we are delighted to report the winners of the Siesta Key Condominium Council’s annual Holiday Lighting Contest. Twenty-two condominium associations participated in the event this year, the council reported, noting that they “added a special enchantment to the holidays for all to enjoy.”

  • Category I — 101 or more units: First place (tie) — Excelsior Beach to Bay and Siesta Dunes; Third place — Siesta Harbor.
  • Category II — 51-100 units: First place — Fisherman’s Cove; Second place — Casablanca; and Third place — Island House Beach Resort.
  • Category III — 50 or fewer units: First place — Sea Shell Condo; Second place — Marina del Sol; and Third place — Harbor Town Yacht Club.

Santa to visit South Siesta

Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Santa Claus will visit South Siesta Key onSunday, Dec. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m., the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce has announced.

“Bring your children to see Santa and take a picture with him!” a Chamber flyer says.

The first 200 children to meet with the Jolly Old Elf will receive small gifts, the flyer points out.

Santa will greet youngsters and their parents at the intersection of Old Stickney Road and Midnight Pass Road, the flyer adds.

Please do not park in the Crescent Beach Grocery parking lot,” the flyer stresses.

Visitors are encouraged to use the free Siesta Key Breeze trolley, which stops regularly at Turtle Beach Park, where parking is available.

A different perspective on the planned road swap

People sign in at the Dec. 11 FDOT hearing at Siesta Key Chapel. Rachel Hackney photo

Near the end of the Dec. 11 public hearing the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) conducted on the planned swap of Siesta roads from the state to the county, one speaker offered a different perspective on the issue than the majority had voiced that night.

Pat Wulf, representing the Bay Island Siesta Association — whose members reside on the north end of the Key — told FDOT Project Manager Kyle Purvis that his organization had been leading an initiative called Make Siesta Drive Safer (MSDS).

“We were very thrilled about the transfer,” Wulf said, noting that Bay Island is a residential area with a 40 mph speed limit.

County staff “has been very helpful” to MSDS, Wulf added, especially in working with its members to create improvements to the nearly 90-degree intersection of Higel Avenue and Siesta Drive. (Those are planned after the authority over those roads becomes effective in September 2020, County Engineer Spencer Anderson has explained to the County Commission.)

However, Wulf said, he would characterize the swap as “a tale of two roads.”

“Sitting here listening to this,” he continued, “you’ve got a totally different intersection at Stickney Point Road and [U.S.] 41.”

Pat Wulf, president of the Bay Island Siesta Association, awaits the start of his presentation to Siesta Key Association members on Jan. 4, 2018. Rachel Hackney photo

He added that he thought it would make sense for FDOT to maintain control of Stickney Point Road from west of that intersection to the Midnight Pass Road intersection.

Then, he said, the state would be able to continue to lend its expertise to all the issues associated with that stretch of road, and the county could lend its expertise to the residential characteristics of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue.

Wulf was one of the 19 speakers during the public hearing, which was planned just to hear comments on the jurisdictional transfer of roadways, Purvis explained to the nearly 100 audience members.

In exchange for the county’s assuming control of Siesta roads, the state will take control of River Road from U.S. 41 to Interstate 75. The County Commission formally approved the swap on Oct. 8, a little more than two years after staff began working with FDOT representatives on the proposal. The goal was to achieve long-needed improvements on River Road, county leaders stressed.

The very last speaker at the FDOT hearing on Dec. 11 was Siesta Key Association (SKA) President Catherine Luckner. She had asked to make her comments after her husband, Robert — an SKA director —offered his remarks early on in the hearing. However, Purvis had misunderstood that and skipped over her.

SKA President Catherine Luckner. File photo

First, after she stood to address Purvis, Catherine Luckner thanked him for conducting the hearing. She next concurred with the view that FDOT’s expertise is needed on issues involving Stickney Point Road. Then she told Purvis, “If I can help you change your mind [about the road swap] by giving you lots of compliments, they would all be true.”

That comment drew laughter from audience members.

Luckner also talked about the fact that Stickney Point Road just seems to be an unusual road. She pointed out that she has been involved in two accidents on the section between U.S. 41 and Siesta Key, and she was not found at fault in either of them. In one incident, she said, “I was sitting at a red light, doing absolutely nothing,” when her vehicle was struck. In the second, she continued, “Someone came from a side street and never seemed to see me.”

Finally, Luckner asked Purvis, if the road transfer takes place as proposed, “What are you going to call State Road 72 [which is the official name of Stickney Point Road]? Not State Road 72?”

That remark drew more laughter.