SKA seeking up to $100,000 more for legal challenges of proposal to dredge Big Pass; SKA membership continuing to grow; a ‘changing of the guard’ for a Siesta dentist office; county likely to get about $6 million more from the state for 2016 South Siesta Renourishment Project; and the Siesta Farmers’ Market’s Temporary Use Permit has been renewed
The vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) told members last week that the organization expects to need another $80,000 to $100,000 as it pursues two types of legal challenges in the effort to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach. (See the related story in this issue.)
Before the organization’s April 6 meeting had ended, one Siesta property owner had offered to match a $1,000 contribution from any other attendee.
Earlier this year, Vice President Catherine Luckner reminded the approximately 60 people in the audience, the board members established a separate entity to which the public can make donations. The Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, she added, so any contribution to it is tax-deductible. People may donate to it through the SKA’s website, President Harold Ashby noted.
The SKA not only has filed a complaint against the City of Sarasota in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in an effort to prevent removal of about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, Luckner explained, but it also stands firm in opposing the decision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to issue a permit to the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the renourishment project.
A Florida administrative law judge’s ruling in late March will make it necessary for the SKA and two other petitioners — Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and the Florida Wildlife Federation — to prepare for a hearing in late August on the challenge to FDEP’s Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent to issue the permit, Luckner said. The SKA board had sought an abeyance of that proceeding until after the Circuit Court matter was settled, she continued, because a favorable decision in court might make the administrative hearing unnecessary. “We wanted time to focus on [the court case] first,” she said.
However, the administrative law judge ruled against the SKA.
“It does seem like about a year has gone by in the last, oh, 45 days,” she told the audience, adding, “We’re getting a lot of pushback from the City of Sarasota.”
Yet, Luckner continued, “I don’t think the Lido residents really understood that they weren’t going to get a renourishment … project this year.”
That is because of a lack of federal funding thus far for the initiative, as well as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion — issued in late December — that prohibits the construction of the two planned groins on South Lido while sea turtle nesting season is underway. Turtles typically lay eggs on county beaches between May 1 and Oct. 31. Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered that work can take place on Lido Beach during the day and night only between Nov. 11 and April 30.
In regard to the funding: The USACE has requested that $11,780,000 for the project be included in the federal budget this year, Susan J. Jackson, a USACE spokeswoman at the agency’s Jacksonville District Office, told The Sarasota News Leader. Jackson said it probably would be mid-May before the USACE knows whether it will receive the money.
The rest of the funding for the Lido project is expected to be in the form of a $3,610,000 FDEP grant and $3,610,000 in Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for city renourishment projects, the current city budget says.
“What I am concerned about is our funding,” Luckner added during the SKA meeting. “We’ve been using money that you all had given to us over a number of years, and we are going to ask people if they can do anything to help us.”
The Lido Key Residents Association, which was accepted as an intervenor in the FDEP administrative challenge, is the only organization involved in that case that has filed for discovery, she continued. That action will entail even more legal expenses for the SKA, she pointed out.
“Anything that you all can do” Luckner said, would be appreciated. “Anything. Please, please, we need you right now. I told you all that we would not ask until we did [need help].”
During the SKA’s membership drive this year, she noted, people donated amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000 for legal assistance. “But we’re going to have to ask for more. … None of it will be used for administrative expenses” or marketing of the SKA, she promised.
One possibility people might consider, she continued, is that some companies will match employees’ — and retired employees’ — charitable contributions. If anyone wanted to pursue that option, Luckner said, she would be happy to provide more details from the research she and her husband, Robert Luckner, have undertaken on that.
One audience member voiced confusion about the fundraising SOSS2 has been doing for legal expenses at the same time the SKA has been seeking support. “I think we all need to get some clarity in this community,” the man told Luckner.
Jeanne Ezcurra, an SOSS2 board member, sought and received Luckner’s permission to respond to the question. SOSS2 was formed in 2014, Ezcurra said, with the sole purpose of stopping the dredging of Big Pass. All donations the nonprofit receives go directly to that effort, she added.
“Our legal teams are working on common issues,” Ezcurra noted.
“We started a little late,” Luckner acknowledged, in terms of establishing the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund.
In response to a question about how much money the SKA needs, she said, “I would like for us to actually add $80,000 to $100,000.” The board already has spent about $20,000, she said. Not all of the extra money might be needed this year, she pointed out, adding that the SKA is being as economical as possible with its expenses.
Margaret Jean Cannon suggested the SKA create a feature on its website where people can see the accumulation of contributions to the Environmental Defense Fund. Luckner told her that was “a very good idea.”
Robert Luckner has figured out that if every SKA member gave $71, Catherine Luckner continued, that would cover the organization’s legal expenses. Still, she was quick to add, “We don’t want to put a mandate on people. We just appreciate anything you can do.”
As Luckner was concluding her remarks, Michael Holderness told her, “I’ll match another $1,000 before we leave [this meeting].”
He won a round of applause.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Luckner responded.
SKA membership update
During the April 6 SKA meeting, President Harold Ashby reported that membership already was 27% ahead of the total for last year.
Moreover, he continued, the SKA has 432 new members — people who never had been associated with the nonprofit in the past. “That’s a lot,” he pointed out. “But we know we have to earn our members.”
Referencing County Commissioner Mike Moran’s remarks that evening as a guest of the organization, Ashby told the attendees that the SKA’s board members are their conduits to the county’s elected officials. “We’re your voice [but] you’ve got to be a member to get your voice heard.”
He noted that membership applications were available at the back of the room.
Furthermore, Ashby said, “We’re going to survey our membership this year … on several targeted points.” The directors will collect all the information and publish it in a format that they will make available to the news media, he continued. “And we’re going to use it in our discussions with the commissioners.”
When an audience member asked how one gets to be an SKA director, Ashby replied, “Tell us you want to be on the board.” He added that applications are available through the nonprofit’s website. Whenever the board members receive one, Ashby continued, they review the material and then schedules interviews with the person. “That’s how I got on the board,” he pointed out.
As for emailing comments or questions to the SKA directors: Ashby said the address is email@example.com. Secretary Joyce Kouba checks the emails that come in, Ashby added, and then she sends them to the appropriate board member for a response. “She’s the ‘decider,’” he joked, referencing a remark President George W. Bush made when he was president.
Dr. Koster retiring
Patients of long-time Siesta dentist Dr. Erwin K. Koster have been notified that he is retiring and turning over his practice to Dr. David C. Schirmer.
Koster recently sent a letter to patients, explaining, “As you probably know I have been having some health issues. So it is with mixed emotions that I must retire from dentistry.”
Schirmer, the letter says, is a native of western New York; he is an honors graduate of the Georgetown University School of Dentistry. Furthermore, the letter notes, Schirmer “has received the three highest honorary awards that a dentist can receive from his colleagues: Fellowships in the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists, and the Pierre Fauchard Academy.”
The dental practice is located at 5136 Ocean Blvd. in Siesta Village.
South Siesta renourishment funds
During the County Commission’s regular meeting on April 3, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, provided an update on the county’s request to the state for extra funding for the South Siesta Key Renourishment Project, which was completed almost exactly a year ago.
The state initially gave the county $2.75 million for that project, he said, which cost about $21.9 million. However — as county Coastal Initiatives Manager Laird Wreford told members of the Tourist Development Council last summer — the county is eligible for more money. To that end, it is on the list to receive $5.9 million out of the beach renourishment funding pool the Legislature will vote on this year, Osterhoudt noted. The total available to communities is $50 million, he added, which is double the amount the state offered last year.
“We’re looking OK at this time,” he continued. The Sarasota County funding request is “about $26 million down on that list.” If the county is successful in winning the money, Osterhoudt added, the state will end up funding about 41% of the project.
Commissioner Nancy Detert — who served terms in both the State House and Senate prior to her election to the commission in 2016 — pointed out in an earlier discussion that the county’s position on that list indicated it should receive the money it is seeking.
The South Siesta Renourishment Project discussion came in the context of concerns about erosion on Manasota Key. When Detert asked Osterhoudt about the stance of South Siesta property owners regarding a Municipal Service Benefit District (MSBU) to help fund the project that also encompassed Turtle Beach, he replied, “There was overwhelming support.”
No survey of those property owners was needed, he added, to make that determination.
In late 2015, a consultant to the county explained to the County Commission how an MSBU is created for such a project. The South Siesta property owners will pay assessments totaling $3,732,000 to repay the loan the county took out to cover 17.02% of the cost of the renourishment initiative.
Farmers Market TUP renewal
In what practically has become an annual ritual, the Siesta Key Farmers’ Market recently won the annual renewal of its county Temporary Use Permit (TUP), so it can continue operating in Davidson Plaza.
The latest County Commission vote came on March 22, after a brief presentation by county Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson. The original vote on the TUP was recorded on July 23, 2008.
A March 22 memo to the County Commission says Bryan Eible — who founded the market — submitted the application to obtain the renewal of the permit for the market to operate on Sundays for another year. “There have been no complaints against the [farmers’] market since its inception,” the memo notes, “and the community has continued to generally support the farmers’ market.”