Siesta Seen

SKA works to ensure groins, not jetties, are planned on Lido Key; rocks on shoreline finally relocated by North Shell Road couple; Siesta restaurants report COVID-19 cases among workers; Fire Department rescues couple from sailboat grounded in Big Pass; Siesta Chamber urges members to ‘Mask Up’; and snowy plovers apparently abandon Siesta for Lido Key Beach

This is the Swakopmund Jetty in Namibia. Photo by Olga Ernst via Wikimedia Commons

Leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) have told The Sarasota News Leader they became alarmed when they read part of a legal declaration that the president of the contractor handling the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project recently wrote.

In a July 1 filling, in response to Save Our Siesta Sand 2’s motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass, Benjamin G. Cottrell V noted several subcontracts he had awarded for the Lido project. Among them, he cited “$1.9 million to Earth Tech for jetty construction.”

On July 2, after reading a copy of that declaration, SKA President Catherine Luckner emailed Brad Johnson, assistant Sarasota County administrator, who oversees the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Department, among other responsibilities.

“There are no Permit documents that cover ‘Jetty construction,’ [emphasis in the email],” Luckner wrote.

A jetty, she pointed out — quoting a coastal engineering document — is defined thus [her emphasis again]: “On open seacoasts, a structure extending into a body of water, which is designed to prevent shoaling of a channel by littoral materials and to direct and confine the stream or tidal flow. Jetties are built at the mouths of rivers or tidal inlets to help deepen and stabilize a channel.”

Again quoting coastal engineering materials, Luckner added that groins are “shore perpendicular structures, used to maintain updrift beaches or to restrict longshore sediment transport. By design, these structures are meant to capture sand transported by the longshore current; this depletes the sand supply to the beach area immediately down-drift of the structure.”

As county leaders have explained, on the west coast of Florida, sand drifts from north to south.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) designed the Lido project, it originally planned on three groins on the southern part of the beach to try to hold new sand in place between subsequent renourishment efforts. One of those groins was planned very close to the county’s Ted Sperling Park, on the southernmost tip of Lido Key. Later, the USACE removed that structure from its proposal.

This engineering drawing in the USACE’s December 2019 solicitation for the Lido Beach Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project shows the planned location of two groins on South Lido, just north of the county’s Ted Sperling Park. Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Luckner then pointed out in her July 2 email to Johnson that she had been in contact with Gregory W. Garis, administrator of the Beaches, Inlets & Ports Program of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). Garis had stressed to her in an email, she continued, that groins have been authorized for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project, not jetties. She included a statement from Garis’ reply to her, which said, “Any significant changes from those activities would require a permit modification.”

Then Luckner told Johnson in the email that the USACE had not submitted to FDEP any engineering documents for the construction of either groins or jetties on Lido. “The impact could be quite different to the [Ted Sperling] Park and [Big] Pass,” she added, if the USACE has decided to proceed with jetties instead of groins. “We could expect severe erosion,” including the lost off the Gulf beachfront in the park.

“We ask you to clarify with Mr. Garis what the Contractor is building,” Luckner continued.

“Would you let us know your findings as soon as possible?”

After apparently receiving no response from Johnson, Luckner sent another email on July 8. That went to him and Nicole Rissler, director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources.

“We are requesting a response from you and Brad Johnson regarding your outreach and results,” Luckner added in her July 8 email.

“Also,” Luckner wrote, “We’d appreciate hearing from our [county] Commissioners, Alan Maio and Christian Ziegler.”
With the implementation of new County Commission district lines last year, Siesta is split between District 2, whose seat Ziegler holds, and District 4, which is Maio’s district.

Luckner finally received a reply on the afternoon of July 8 from Shawn Yeager, senior manager of PRNR. He wrote, “We confirmed with both Cottrell Contracting and with the City of Sarasota this afternoon that no jetties are being installed as part of this project. Only the permitted groins are being installed. [City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw] may be better able to assist with additional questions about this project.”

The SKA remains engaged in litigation with the City of Sarasota over the Lido project, contending that the city should have applied for a Sarasota County permit to allow the USACE contractor to remove sand from Big Pass. SKA leaders have stressed for years that Big Pass never has been dredged.

Rocks relocated, at last, on shoreline at Beach Access 1

On April 16, the rocks and rubble remained on the shoreline near Big Pass at Beach Access 1. Rachel Hackney photo

Regular readers will recall that controversy ensued early this year over the efforts of the owners of a home near Beach Access 1 — on North Shell Road — to keep the public off their property.

Greg and Michelle Olson of 3935 N. Shell Road had erected a rope-and-post barrier that county staff advised them was in violation of county regulations.

In investigating that situation, county Environmental Protection Division staff members also found rocks parallel to the shoreline, which — staff acknowledged — were installed by a previous owner of the property.

During a staff review of historic aerial images,” a county letter to the Olsons continued, “it also became clear that shore-perpendicular rock/concrete has been present at this location since at least 1974 in the vicinity of both your northern and southern property boundaries.”

In response to the staff concerns, the Olsons agreed to apply for a county permit to move the rocks landward of the county’s Barrier Island Pass Twenty Year Hazard Line (PHL).

In late June, the News Leader learned from county Planning and Development Services Department staff that the rocks finally had been relocated.

The After-the-Fact Minor Work Permit was issued to the Olsons on April 13 and then modified on April 16, according to a copy of the document the News Leader received after making a public records request.

A county aerial map shows the Olsons’ property, outlined in red. Image courtesy Sarasota County

That permit explained that the Olsons’ property on Big Pass “has not been historically hardened by a rock revetment. There are scattered rocks running perpendicular to the shore along the northern property boundary near the Shell Road right-of-way that have been present since at least the 1970s. There is also a scattering of rocks offshore and closer to the southern property boundary that have historically been at this location since at least the 1970s. The footprint of the scattered rocks and the shore-perpendicular configuration of rocks … are not very well consolidated and no longer appear to serve as a functional shoreline protection structure or groin. Many are buried in the sand. These rocks are not to be enhanced or moved elsewhere on the beach as part of this permit.”

The document added, “The previous owner installed rock along the shoreline sometime between 2011 and 2013. This after- the-fact permit addresses compliance issues related to county regulations. Several rocks will require relocation landward of the PHL to address compliance with the [county’s] Coastal Setback Code, while the issuance of this after-the-fact Minor Work Permit addresses compliance with the WNCA [Water and Navigation Control Authority] Code for authorization of a shoreline protection structure within the WNCA jurisdictional area. A specific stipulation has been included which requires the existing seagrapes to be protected and preserved.

Furthermore, the Sarasota County Environmental Protection Division shall require dune vegetation plantings at the toe of the rock revetment as a shoreline softening mitigation measure.”

The permit noted that Greg Olson contacted staff on April 15 “with concerns that the initial mitigation requirements contained in the permit … would not be feasible or successful due to changed conditions at the beach.” As a result, the document continued, “Staff met with Mr. Olson on April 15, 2020 to review the current site conditions.”

The permit added that staff observed that the wrack line “and wave run-up have recently been reaching the toe of the rock. Several desirable native dune plants are present at the top of the rock revetment.”

Thus, the document continued, “Staff agreed to modify the issued permit to remove the requirements to plant at the toe of the rock revetment and encourage the installation of native vegetation at the top of the revetment in areas that remain bare following the relocation of the rock landward of the [Pass Hazard Line].

This was the westernmost point of the Olsons’ barrier on their North Shell Road property, prior to their taking it down on Jan. 25. File photo

As modified, the permit also said, “The Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan also recognizes the importance of removing all nuisance/invasive species as they are a continual threat to the health of Sarasota County’s native habitats and shoreline areas. These fast-growing species grow densely and crowd or shade out desirable native plants that are important for long-term shoreline management. Further, the Sarasota County Invasive Plant Species Code (Sarasota County Code, Chapter 54, Article XIX) prohibits the importation, transportation, sale, propagation, and planting of six nuisance/invasive plant species.

“Therefore, if any nuisance/invasive species [including but not limited to Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), Senegal date palm (Phoenix reclinata), creeping ox-eye (Wedelia trilobata), beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada or Scaevola sericea), Australian pine (Casuarina spp.), Chinese tallow (Sapium sebiferum), carrotwood (Cupaniopsis anacardioides), and punk tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia)] are located within 30 feet of the shoreline, they are required to be removed pursuant to a stipulation within this permit.

“With adherence to the conditions and stipulations contained herein, no long-term adverse ecological impacts are anticipated,” the permit said.

Upon completion of the relocation of the rocks, the permit noted, the revetment would be limited to a maximum elevation of 4 feet NAVD [an abbreviation that pertains to Federal Emergency Management Agency base elevations in regard to flooding] and will remain within the landward footprint of the existing rock revetment on the [Olsons’] property. The overall length of the revetment structure is approximately 110 feet, while the width varies (between 4 ft. and 9 ft. wide).”

Finally, the permit required the Olsons to use “[c]lean, local, quarry rock … in construction of the rock revetment,” and it said they would have to maintain the revetment in good condition “so as to create no hazard or nuisance to surrounding properties or the public at large.”

Howard Berna, who manages of the Environmental Permitting Division and serves as administrator of the WNCA ordinance, signed the permit.

Old Salty Dog closes after employee tests positive for virus

The Old Salty Dog, on the north end of Siesta Village, is packed on an early April 2019 evening, almost a year before the novel coronavirus pandemic began. File photo

On July 5, the management of the Old Salty Dog posted the following on Facebook: “Out of an abundance of caution we have decided to close our Siesta Key location temporarily for deep cleaning and employee testing after one of our employees tested positive for Covid-19. The health and safety of our staff and customers is our utmost priority. Thank you for your support and understanding during these difficult times.
Please visit our other locations at City Island and Venice.
Stay safe everyone!”

Just four days earlier, the Old Salty Dog on Siesta had posted a note saying that, because of “growing concern about the safety of our staff and customers,” the restaurant would require all customers to wear a mask. All employees had been doing so, the post noted, and their temperatures were checked daily.

The Old Salty Dog is not the only Siesta restaurant to have a worker test positive for the novel coronavirus, the News Leader learned.

On June 24, the Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) put up a post on its Facebook page, saying that two of its staff members tested positive while they were on vacation.

“The safety of our community and staff are of the utmost importance,” the post continued, “so to err on the side of caution, SKOB will be closing early tonight,” and it would be closed all day on June 25, for another thorough and deep cleaning of the facilities.

“We will also require all employees to get tested in order to return to work,” the post added. “We will reopen on Friday, June 26th, at 11 a.m. and still will be practicing or safety habits such as the staff wearing gloves and masks, as well as temperature checks. We appreciate your patience as we navigate these difficult times.”

Fire Department comes to rescue of grounded sailboat

A still from the Air-1 video shows a person preparing to jump off the sailboat into Big Pass. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Just before 8:30 p.m. on Monday, July 6, the Sarasota County Fire Department received a call about a sailboat that had gone aground on the sandbar in Big Sarasota Pass.

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Air-1 helicopter crew kept an eye on the vessel as firefighters set out by boat to assist the stranded sailors. The Air-1 crew noted that the couple had set off a flare, indicting the vessel was in distress.

In releasing a copy of the Air-1 video to the public, the Sheriff’s Office reported that the sailboat “was being battered by the waves” when Fire Boat 3 approached it.

The Fire Department noted in its report that its boat maneuvered as close to the sailboat as possible, and then two firefighters set out on foot across the sandbar to help the man and woman leave the sailboat and make their way to the Fire Department boat.

“The water is too shallow,” a person on Fire Boat 3 reported, as heard in the Air-1 video, explaining why the rescue vessel could not move in closer to the sailboat.

Air-1 recorded video as the firefighters assisted a man, a woman and two dogs. All made it safely aboard the Fire Department vessel, as that crew reported to Air-1.

The first dog from the sailboat has been brought aboard the Fire Department boat in this still from the Air-1 video. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

After the rescue, the couple and their pets were transported to Marina Jack in downtown Sarasota, the Fire Department report noted. There, the couple met with Sea Tow personnel to discuss options about getting their sailboat off the sandbar, the report added.

Firefighters estimated the length of the sailboat at 20 to 25 feet. It was visible about half-a-mile offshore of Beach Access 2 on Siesta Key, the report said.

To watch the rescue, go to this link:

Siesta Chamber encouraging display of ‘Mask Up’ poster

Staff members at The Hub Baja Grill in Siesta Village have ‘masked up,’ as shown in this image posted on the restaurant’s Facebook Page on June 26. Image courtesy of The Hub

In a July 9 email blast, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce distributed a copy of a “Mask Up” poster provided by Sarasota County staff “to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”

The email asked members to please print the poster and put it on display.

At the bottom, the poster says, “The Board of County Commissioners endorses recommendations from the Florida Surgeon General regarding face coverings in any setting where social distancing is not possible.”

This is a copy of the poster. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Plovers apparently bid ‘adieu’ to Siesta

Just before the midpoint of July, it appeared snowy plovers no longer were making efforts to nest on Siesta Key this season, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of the Audubon Florida’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship in the county, reported in a regular update.

In her July 12 email blast to volunteers and the news media, Wilson wrote that it seemed that “all the plovers have migrated from Siesta to Lido.”
“We started the season with 6 nesting pairs,” she explained, “so 12 birds, on Siesta. One of those females was banded (Ms. Sanibel) and she has not been resighted here since just after [the passage of Tropical Storm] Cristobal [in early June]. So, excluding her and her mate, we now have 10 plovers consistently in the Sarasota area. This past week I sighted all 10 together on North Lido. I sighted no Snowy Plovers on Siesta …”

Wilson added that she would continue to survey conditions on Siesta; however, unless she found new nesting activity, she would not provide any further Siesta report in her weekly updates.

A snowy plover makes itself at home on Siesta Public Beach in late March. Photo courtesy Kylie Wilson

“The plovers have had a lot to overcome on Siesta in recent years,” she pointed out. “Most likely causes of nest failures are disturbances from dogs and predation from crows and ghost crabs. It is very sad that the birds are no longer successful at Siesta. When the birds have multiple failed seasons they will go off in search of new territory where they may have better luck. Hopefully we will see them succeed at Lido and perhaps, with some more predation management and education, the nesting potential of Siesta can be restored.”

Although a county ordinance forbids dogs on Siesta’s public beaches, through the years, residents and visitors alike have flouted the regulation. Sheriff’s Office personnel and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff have documented such incidents.

Wilson pleaded last year for the public to be mindful of the fact that dogs scare snowy plovers into abandoning their nests; she renewed her campaign this year. Nonetheless, as she has indicated, some people refuse to abide by the county ordinance and continue to allow their dogs on the beach.

1 thought on “Siesta Seen”

  1. Rachel, your staff & you are doing a great service to our community by providing in-depth coverage that other news sources don’t provide. I hope you all keep it up. “You go Girl”!

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