Siesta Seen

New facility planned to prevent wastewater spills at Siesta pump station; Sheriff’s Office busy with car thefts, dogs and plenty of people; three bar assault cases detailed; Grand Canal Regeneration Project continues to add participants; and SKA still awaiting opinion in appeal of Big Pass complaint

This graphic shows the location of the new Lockwood Ridge Pump Station. Image courtesy Sarasota County

On April 10 2018, wastewater began flowing from the new Siesta Key Master Pump Station to the mainland, following a years-long Sarasota County project.

The conversion of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant to a pump station ensured that sewage no longer would be handled on the Key, county staff explained. And, given the redundancies in the equipment included in the new facility, leaders of the county’s Public Utilities Department told Siesta Key Association (SKA) members that they should not have to worry about any more effluent accidentally ending up in the Grand Canal.

Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case.

On July 9, 2019, about 36,000 gallons of untreated sewage flowed right into the canal from the master pump station site located on Oakmont Place, adjacent to the Siesta Isles community.

The incident was a result of a failure at the county’s Lockwood Ridge Road booster station, a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) report said.

County staff had to manually open a valve at the Lockwood Ridge facility to divert some of the flow of effluent to the north; that eased the pressure in the sewer force main from Siesta Key, the report added. Then the flow increased from the Siesta master pump station, the report noted. That stopped the spill.

About 14,700 gallons of the wastewater was recovered from the canal, the report said. Samples were taken, the report added, and lime was distributed in the immediate vicinity of the spill as a mitigation measure.

That spill was among many — entailing millions of gallons, altogether — that FDEP documented in a Consent Order that the County Commission approved in August 2019. The order laid out a series of steps the county would need to take — by specific dates — to improve its wastewater treatment facilities to prevent future spills.

Over the past year, the County Commission has been approving a wide variety of contracts for projects designed to meet FDEP’s stipulations.

Among those, on Jan. 26, the commissioners unanimously approved a $1,245,890 contract with TLC Diversified Inc. of Palmetto to construct a new Lockwood Ridge Booster Pump Station (BSP) at 5758 S. Lockwood Ridge Road. A staff memo in the board packet explained that the station “is a critical component of the wastewater collection system, which boosts flow received from the Siesta Key Master Pump Station, then pumps it to the Central County Water Reclamation Facility for treatment. (The Central County complex stands on Palmer Ranch in Sarasota.)

A graphic shows the site of the Siesta Key Master Pump Station and equipment that functioned as a water reclamation facility until April 2018. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Lockwood Ridge BPS has been located within an easement on property owned by Gulf Gate Church, the memo added. The new site, the memo notes, is “more suitable.”

The project’s Scope of Work says that the original pump station was placed into service In September 2018.

In companion action on Jan. 26, the County Commission approved a payment of $147,420 to Hazen and Sawyer P.C. to manage the construction project. That firm has offices in Sarasota and Tampa, its website says.

Construction of the new Lockwood Ridge facility is expected to begin this month, the staff memo added, with the project duration anticipated to take about 266 days.

Busy period for Sheriff’s Office on the Key

During the Feb. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sheriff’s Office’s substation on the Key, noted that the department fielded 341 calls for service in January, “which is a little bit up form previous months” in previous years.

However, he continued, the number of more serious crimes — those the FBI used to classify as Part 1 incidents — has stayed “pretty close to the same [level on Siesta].”

Among January incidents, Smith pointed to six thefts of vehicles. Four of the six, he said, involved unattended vehicles with the keys left in them. In two cases, he added, the vehicles were still running when someone stole them.

In the fifth incident, Smith said, a person broke into the vehicle, but the keys were not in it, so it was not taken.

Deputies have told the News Leader through the years that visitors to Siesta Public Beach not infrequently leave their vehicles unlocked in their eagerness to get to the shoreline. File photo

And in the sixth case, he noted, the owner had removed the keys and the doors were locked. Officers still are investigating that one, Smith added, trying to determine how the vehicle was stolen; he did not believe it had been recovered.

Therefore, Smith stressed to the SKA members, only one of those incidents was what he would describe as “legitimate.” As he has many times in the past, Smith urged SKA members to keep their vehicles locked when they are not with the vehicles and to be sure to take their keys with them.

Additionally, Smith reported, “We’ve had quite a spike in bicycle thefts on the Key.” Most of those incidents have occurred in the area around Stickney Point Road, he continued. As a result of calls, Smith said, the Sheriff’s Office has increased patrols in that part of the island.

Smith further noted a few reports of assaults in Siesta Village, usually around the closing times of the bars, he pointed out. “Nothing too big or too out of the ordinary with that,” he said.

And Sheriff’s Office personnel still are trying to educate people that a county ordinance forbids dogs on the beach unless the dogs are service animals. Moreover, Smith said, county regulations forbid dogs in parks that do not have designated areas for the animals.

“We’ve been getting a lot of complaints,” he continued, about dogs in Glebe Park.

Then Smith told the SKA members that, as usual for this time of year, the Sheriff’s Office is working on its Spring Break planning for the Key, with more patrols beginning in March.

An extra five or six deputies will be assigned to the island during the day and at night, he added. The department’s Mounted Patrol also will be present on the beach, he said.

Members of the Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol make their way through the parking lot at Siesta Public Beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, via a video

“We want to do our best,” Smith pointed out, to make certain that people have fun but that they follow the county rules, as well.

In response to a question from SKA Director Natalie Gutwein, Smith reported that the Key did seem busier in January than usual. In fact, he said, he had talked with a number of business owners to find out whether they were experiencing upticks in numbers of customers, compared to previous Januaries. Some reported that their numbers were the same as in past Januaries or better, he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic remains underway in the state and in the county. Virginia Haley, president of the county’s tourism office — Visit Sarasota County — has told county leaders over the past months that, while the number of international tourists has remained practically nonexistent because of travel concerns or restrictions, many residents of other parts of Florida — and other states — have been coming to Sarasota County.

Given medical researchers’ findings over the past months that the transmission of the novel coronavirus happens more readily in indoor settings, people have been more inclined to visit areas where they can pursue a wide range of outdoor activities.

During the SKA meeting, Smith noted that he and his Sheriff’s Office colleagues had been seeing “a lot of people from out of state.”

About those assault cases …

In response to a Sarasota News Leader request, the Sheriff’s Office provided the publication copies of the three bar assaults Sgt. Arik Smith referenced during the Feb. 4 SKA meeting.

One that occurred on Jan. 15 at the Beach Club, which is located at 5151 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Village, entailed a battery that was reported shortly before 10 p.m.

The narrative said that when the deputy arrived at the club, a security guard “had both the defendant and victim separated. The victim reported that he had been at the bar and the defendant had pushed him while on the dance floor.”
The victim added that he was on vacation and did not know the defendant, the report continued.

The victim then told the deputy that he kept his distance from the defendant before going to the bar to pay his tab. While he was taking care of his bill, the victim alleged, the defendant attacked him, striking him “several times in the head and face” before other people pulled the defendant to the floor.

People stroll past the Beach Club on spring evening in 2017. File photo

“While on the way to the jail,” the deputy wrote, “the defendant refused to allow me to advise him of his rights, stating that he was an attorney. He then spontaneously stated that the ‘guy’ (victim) had grabbed his girlfriend’s buttock and this made him angry. He stated, ‘I warned him three times and then I put knuckles on him.’”

The defendant also told the deputy, “I don’t care that I’m going to jail,” the report continued, because the victim “got what he deserved.”

The 47-year-old defendant in that case was from Barre, Vt., the report said. The box on the form denoting whether the defendant had consumed alcohol was marked, “Yes.”

The victim, who had opted out of being identified, was 32, the report added.

A second incident that occurred at the Beach Club on Jan. 3 — albeit in the wee hours of the morning (1:59 a.m.) — identified the assailant as a 29-year-old Osprey resident. The 30-year-old victim was a Sarasota resident, the report added.

In that case, a deputy and another person were parked outside the Beach Club, the report said, when the defendant, who was wearing no shirt, “was escorted out of the club by several bouncers. Once they were out the door,” the report continued, the defendant “started to resist the bouncers and he was forcefully pushed out of the club.”

The defendant then lunged at one of the bouncers, who had his back to the defendant, “and [the defendant] took a swing at him with his fists,” the report said. Another bouncer saw that, the report continued, “and immediately tackled [the defendant] to the ground …”

The bouncer whom the defendant attacked told the deputy that he did not want to press charges at that time. However, one of the Beach Club managers said he would like to have a deputy issue a trespass warning, so the defendant legally could be denied entrance to the Beach Club.

Later, the report pointed out, the defendant was arrested on a charge of Simple Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer. In that case — which occurred about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 3 — the deputy wrote that after he assisted with the earlier incident, “The defendant immediately began acting belligerent [and yelled] profanities at deputies.”

The deputy who wrote the narrative for that report said the defendant “approached me several times in an aggressive manner attempting to fight me. Several subjects attempted to calm down the defendant and remove him from the area.”

The Public Safety Building on the west end of Siesta Beach Park serves as the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key. Contributed photo by Jason Bartolone, Sarasota County

Although the defendant did move toward the intersection of Canal Road and Ocean Boulevard, just south of the Beach Club, the deputy continued, the defendant then began arguing with other people, “yelling profanities, and making aggressive movements towards them.”

The other people and the defendant ended up leaving the area.

Finally, the defendant “returned to the area of the Beach Club and started yelling at deputies,” the report said. “The defendant was highly intoxicated, screaming profanities, and indicated he wanted to fight me several times,” the deputy wrote. The defendant also “stated he would find [the deputy’s] address] and find [the deputy’s] family.”

After the defendant had continued that behavior for about 40 minutes, the defendant demanded a supervisor, the report noted. However, after a sergeant arrived on the scene, the report said, the defendant remained belligerent. Then the defendant requested an ambulance because he believed his arm was broken. “It should be noted,” the deputy wrote, that “while the defendant was yelling at deputies he constantly flared his arms and showed no indication his arm was broken” or that he was in pain.

A rescue unit from Fire Station 13 arrived, and the crew evaluated the defendant, the report continued. Then the defendant exited the side door of the ambulance and once more tried to pick a fight with the deputy. The defendant “balled his right fist, rubbing his right fist with his left hand,” and approached the deputy, the report pointed out. The second deputy on the scene intervened, and the defendant ended up being charged with the Simple Assault count, the report said.

Update on the Grand Canal Regeneration Project

Before the end of February, leaders of the Siesta Key Association’s Grand Canal Regeneration Project hope to have a total of 80 mini reefs installed in four specific areas of the island, SKA Director Margaret Jean Cannon told members during the nonprofit’s Feb. 4 meeting.

Altogether, she pointed out, 878 homes on the 9-mile-long Grand Canal have docks, based on research the SKA has undertaken. As of Feb. 4, she continued, 60 of those homes — 7% — had mini reefs installed. The project team hopes to add 20 more this month, Cannon said.

This is a graphic SKA Director Margaret Jean Cannon showed members on Feb. 4. Image courtesy Siesta Key Association

The devices, made of durable polypropylene, are produced by a Florida nonprofit organization, Ocean Habitats.

As explained during past meetings, the mini reefs are designed as “homes” for sea life such as oysters, which are called “filter feeders,” because they eat organisms that degrade the water. As the water quality improves, juvenile fish are attracted to the area around the mini reefs.

Phil Chiocchio, of Sarasota, a member of the Sarasota Bay Fisheries Forum — who introduced SKA members to mini reefs — has offered hope that the water in the Grand Canal will be of far better quality by 2025, which will be the 100th anniversary of the canal’s creation.

“It would be great if neighbors can start talking to their neighbors,” he said on Feb. 4, to promote the SKA initiative.

A map Cannon presented the Zoom meeting participants featured a map of the island showing the four sections where the SKA team has been working to gain residents’ approval for the use of the mini reefs: the Grand Canal Section, Palm Island Section, Siesta Isles Section and Ocean Beach/Sarasands Section.

The primary target area, Cannon pointed out, is the Grand Canal Section, which includes Siesta Key Circle, Tremont Street and Waterside Way. “They’re up to 12%,” she said, referring to the percentage of mini reefs installed — 34 — out of the total of 234 homes with docks.

David Wolff of Ocean Habitats holds a mini reef. Image courtesy Siesta Key Association

Cannon also noted that the team is working with various other nonprofits, including the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Venice, on strategies to improve the canal and to pursue grant opportunities.

The Foundation, she said, has launched an undertaking called the Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways. (During a presentation to the County Commission in March 2020, representatives of the Community Playbook group discussed a wide variety of initiatives that can lead to improved water quality countywide.)

This slide shows facets of the Community Playbook initiative. Image courtesy Siesta Key Association

At one point on Feb. 4, SKA President Catherine Luckner pointed out that a resident of Bay Island, on the northern part of the Key, told her he has kayaks and a boat, so he has seen firsthand how successful the mini reefs are. He has two docks, she continued, and is interested in installing the devices. However, Luckner said, he was concerned about whether high tides could result in the mini reefs damaging his docks.

Chiocchio explained that Ocean Habitats has informed him that the devices weigh 200 to 300 pounds after they become filled with sea life, “so their lifting capacity is very minimal, and [Ocean Habitats has] not had any problems with [reports of the devices] lifting docks,” as long as the docks were built to current construction code standards.

The mini reefs are attached to docks with ropes and pulleys, Cannon added, which also ensure their stability under docks.

Anyone interested in participating in the program, or anyone interesting in helping the team, may send an email to SiestaKeyAssociation1947@gmail.com.

A long wait for a court opinion

Another topic that arose during the Feb. 4 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting was the fact that oral arguments were conducted on Nov. 18, 2020 in the nonprofit’s appeal of its complaint against the City of Sarasota over the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach. However, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal has yet to issue an opinion in the case.

After a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judged ruled in the city’s favor last year, SKA leaders decided to pursue the case before the Court of Appeal.

Robert Luckner, an SKA director who is the husband of President Catherine Luckner, noted on Feb. 4 that if the SKA can win its appeal, then it would be able to file a claim against the city and the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA) — which joined the 12th Circuit case as an intervenor — for legal fees.

The city and the LKRA have filed papers seeking legal fees from the SKA, if they prevail.

“It was a very simple, straightforward challenge,” Catherine Luckner noted of the SKA complaint.

Morgan Bentley. Contributed photo

The SKA has maintained that, because sand borrow areas in Big Pass were within Sarasota County’s jurisdiction, and the pass never had been dredged before, the city needed a county permit before the contractor for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project could take sand from the pass.

When the News Leader asked the SKA’s attorney, D. Kent Safriet of the Tallahassee firm Hopping Green & Sams, if he would care to comment on the lack of decision at this point from the Appeal Court (DCA), Safriet wrote in a Feb. 3 email, “I’d rather not say anything on the record about the case.”

Then the News Leader posed the question to Morgan Bentley, one of the founders of the Bentley Law firm in Sarasota, who serves as an informal adviser to the News Leader on legal issues.

In his Feb. 3 response, Bentley wrote that of the News Leader’s assessment in its email to him: “[Y]ou are correct that our DCA is normally very good about getting out opinions. That said, having one go a few months past like this one is not that unheard of. Some even go as long as a year but that is much more unusual.”

The court typically issues opinions around 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, its website notes.

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