CodeRed system may be used for notices about environmental situations in the future; resident seeking support for a dog park; SKA members get an update on the Lido Renourishment Project: Chamber director discusses plans for Sandfest and the Crystal Classic
On the heels of an executive order Gov. Rick Scott issued in late September, Sarasota County staff may use its CodeRed system as one means of notifying residents of any future discharges of partly treated wastewater into bodies of water, David A. Cash, the county’s water/wastewater division manager, told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
Regardless of the method it ends up employing, Cash added in an Oct. 10 email, “[A]ffected citizens and local media outlets will be notified if there are any future occurrences.”
CodeRed is the emergency notification system the county uses for severe weather alerts, for example and “boil water” notices. Any member of the public may sign up for it up through the county’s website. The link is listed at the bottom of the homepage — www.scgov.net — under Emergency Services.
The issue arose during the Oct. 6 SKA meeting, when Second Vice President Catherine Luckner discussed the discharge of 3.3 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Grand Canal from the Siesta treatment plant. The release began on Aug. 31 and ceased on Sept. 5, according to reports the county filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
Cash explained to the News Leader last month that staff was worried that raw sewage would spill over tanks in the plant as a result of the heavy rainfall associated with then-Tropical Storm Hermine.
As Luckner noted during the SKA meeting, word spread on the island after residents noticed “No Swimming” signs posted at the Grand Canal after the discharge, as required by the Florida Department of Health.
No formal public announcement was made, Luckner pointed out, because “it wasn’t [county staff members’] protocol to do that.”
However, the SKA received five emails from people “who really had some very good points” about the need for public notice of such events, even though the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) allows such discharges in the type of situation the wastewater treatment plant staff was facing during Hermine.
A couple of residents, especially, talked of how “this doesn’t seem right,” she added, given the number of people who boat, kayak and use jet skis in the Grand Canal.
Luckner recognized Jeanne Excurra and Lorie Tiernay, who were in the audience, for their efforts to help protect their neighbors and other members of the public.
Subsequent to the Siesta incident, Luckner continued, Mosaic reported to the state that about 215 million gallons of acidic water and an unknown amount of gypsum — a fertilizer byproduct with low levels of radiation — leaked into the Floridan Aquifer at its Mulberry plant through a sinkhole. Moreover, the City of St. Petersburg spilled millions of gallons of raw sewage into Tampa Bay — another incident linked to Hermine’s rain.
In response to those events, Scott issued an executive order on Sept. 26, calling for FDEP Secretary Jon Steverson “to issue an emergency rule that establishes new requirements for public notification of pollution incidents to take effect immediately,” Scott’s office announced. “This emergency rule will ensure the public, local governments and DEP are notified within 24 hours by all responsible parties following a pollution incident,” a press release pointed out.
Scott also ordered that within 48 hours, “DEP, local governments and the general public must be notified of any potential risks to public health, safety or welfare and to surrounding areas by any and all responsible parties …”
Scott added that he will propose a bill during the 2017 Florida Legislature’s session to make certain the public is kept informed of incidents that “may cause a threat to public health and to Florida’s air and water resources.”
That emergency rule is in effect for 90 days, the news release noted.
“So there will be no way nobody will be surprised,” Luckner explained during the SKA meeting.
However, since Scott did not say how the notice should be provided, she continued, the effort to craft protocols for that is underway statewide. The executive order, she added, “was actually to stimulate problem solving.”
In the meantime, Luckner said, Tony Romanus, president of the Siesta Isles Association — which represents the neighborhood where the aging wastewater plant is located — has offered to send out an email blast to residents and to notify the SKA if any incidents occur at that plant in the future.
Some residents were concerned that the recent proliferation of red tide off Siesta Key could have been caused by the discharge of the partly treated sewage into the Grand Canal, Luckner pointed out, but red tide already was present in the Gulf of Mexico at that time. The heavy rains the area has experienced in recent weeks washes anything on land into the water, she noted, adding that it did not seem feasible that the sewage discharge would have had a significant impact. “All I can say is we’ve had a heck of a time.”
Luckner also reminded the audience that the Siesta wastewater plant is an aged facility — more than 40 years old, county staff has explained. “Let’s all keep alert.”
What about a dog park?
Months ago, Diane Collins learned that the County Commission was seeking suggestions for use of property that will be available on the site of the Siesta Key Wastewater Treatment Plant after the facility has been decommissioned.
“And so I called and asked about a dog park,” she said during the Oct. 6 SKA meeting. “They said, ‘Fine; get signatures [on a petition].’”
And that is exactly what she is trying to do, she explained as she held up a sign about her cause.
Approximately 300 people already have offered their support, she said, but she is hoping for hundreds more.
County staff has set a goal of taking the plant offline by the end of December 2017. At that point, the facility would serve only as master pumping station, with the effluent headed to the mainland for treatment. Therefore, Bob Luckner, a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, told her she has plenty of time to gather more signatures.
In a brief interview with the News Leader, Collins said she welcomes phone calls from people who support her idea. They may reach her at 346-2808.
“I’ve talked to the commissioners,” she added, “and they seem to be enthusiastic about the proposal.”
SKA update on Lido Renourishment Project
Because Tropical Storm Hermine’s wind and rain prompted the SKA to cancel its September meeting, Second Vice President Catherine Luckner provided an update on the Lido Renourishment Project to the approximately 40 audience members present for the Oct. 6 session.
Even though FDEP has deemed the application from the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to be complete, she said, FDEP has until Dec. 27 to issue a notice saying whether it plans to issue a permit for the project or deny the permit.
Luckner called the SKA’s July request for the County Commission to ask the USACE to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project “a big success.” The board did just that, she explained, in a late August letter to the federal agency. No response has come yet from the USACE, she added.
In the meantime, she continued, the County Commission sent a letter to FDEP stating its concerns about the potential for the USACE and the city to use the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as a staging area. Because of funding the county utilized to purchase that property, she added, the park receives special oversight as a coastal resource management area.
(City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw has told the News Leader that that a different staging area could be used, but that information was not available to the county commissioners before they approved their letter to FDEP.)
Luckner also pointed out during the Oct. 6 SKA meeting that the county board paid almost $50,000 for a peer review of the city/USACE proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass for sand to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido, and it also approved $1 million in county funds in 2014 to make it possible for the city to use extra sand in what the city termed an “emergency” project under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines to stabilize the South Lido Beach in early 2015. That undertaking was a response to damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.
“The SKA has not been an obstacle to helping Lido in the ways that we can,” Luckner said.
Among the reasons the organization and other groups — such as Save Our Siesta Sand 2 — have pressed for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), she continued, is that that more intensive review of the proposed project would necessitate addressing options for sand other than Big Pass. It also could lead to the realization that less sand is needed than the approximately 1.2 million cubic yards that the USACE has proposed to dredge from Big Pass for the initial renourishment, she noted.
FDEP staff is charged with affirming or denying any inconsistencies between Florida and federal laws as it determines the department’s final action relative to the Lido permit application, she added.
On a side note, Luckner said that when the county sent its correspondence to FDEP in late August about the project, the material that showed up in the department’s Lido folder online included a document the SKA also had provided to the board in advance of its Aug. 23 decision on the EIS. With yellow highlights, that information from the SKA pointed to sections of the county’s Comprehensive Plan that are applicable to the project. “I was thrilled,” Luckner added. However, at least one county commissioner questioned how that document ended up with an apparent link to the County Commission letter about Sperling Park.
In a Sept. 14 report to the County Commission, Matt Osterhoudt, interim director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, wrote that staff “recently became aware that the [Lido project folder on the FDEP website] contains a document provided by members of the public suggesting role(s) of the Sarasota County Commission (Board) as part of the City’s project.” He continued, “According to FDEP staff, the document … was provided by the Siesta Key Association (SKA). FDEP staff explained they posted the document simply because they received it as public comment. All such public comments are posted to the site.”
The report points out, “FDEP staff also confirmed their determination of completeness or issuance/denial of the permit must be consistent with state permitting requirements, and not on inapplicable public comments.”
Furthermore, Osterhoudt explained in the memo that the Comprehensive Plan applies to development proposals through implementation of county ordinances. The Code of Ordinances’ provisions relating to coastal systems, he continued, are either not applicable to incorporated areas or they exempt municipal, state and federal projects.
He added that staff had reviewed permitting records “and found no instances of County permits for projects by municipal, state, or federal government agencies for beach renourishment, dredging, and beach hardening projects within the incorporated area.”
November will be a busy month for the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Ann Frescura told members of the SKA and the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) last week.
First, the Chamber will host the annual Sandfest on Friday, Nov. 4, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the pavilion in the Siesta Public Beach Park. The theme, she said, will be Flashback to the ’80s.
“We encourage festive attire,” she told the SKA members.
“Take your white suits out of the attic,” Syd Krawczyk of Concept Digital Media responded laughingly at the SKVA meeting when she made the announcement, alluding to disco-era attire.
The cost is $25 per member and $35 for those who do not belong to the Chamber, Frescura said. Chamber members may reserve tables for 10 for $250.
For more information, check out the chamber website or call 349-3800.
Close on the heels of Sandfest, the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival will be held on Siesta Public Beach Nov. 11-15.
“I can’t wait,” she said of that event when addressing the SKA members. “This’ll be my first time.”
Frescura joined the Chamber in January.