Open house on beach improvements set for October
Sarasota County probably will put the Siesta stormwater project out for bid in November, with the bid award expected in February, the project manager told members of the Siesta Key Association during their regular meeting on Sept. 6.
However, Curtis Smith said, the site work would not begin until April, after the primary tourist season had ended.
Smith said the county just had received the state permit it needed for the stormwater work, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally had acknowledged the county’s modification of its permit application for the project was complete, clearing the way for the scheduling to begin.
Moreover, Smith reported, if the schedule stays on track, the county should be able to keep the Southwest Florida Water Management District grant that is “a very important piece of the funding for that project.”
SWFWMD had committed a maximum of $975,000 to the stormwater work, which has been estimated to cost $1.5 million. Once the work was completed, Smith has told The Sarasota News Leader, SWFWMD would reimburse the county for half its expenses, up to the $975,000 mark.
That grant was set to expire in March 2013, Smith told the approximately 30 SKA audience members. However, he pointed out, “We’ve been in close communication with the water management district about the grant.” The key was making sure the project stayed on schedule, he said, “so they can have a comfort level about what we’re doing.”
Smith also reported that county staff plans to hold an open house on Siesta Key in October to allow members of the public to see the latest plans for the Siesta Public Beach Park improvements. People will be able to offer suggestions about the design, he said.
Smith had offered the previous week to provide a set of plans with cost details to Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chairman Mark Smith, so Mark Smith, an architect, could review them with representatives of the other island organizations. Mark Smith’s goal has been for the stakeholder groups to collaborate on suggestions about trimming the project’s costs. However, Curtis Smith said those plans would not be ready until the open house was held.
The stormwater project is designed to improve the quality of stormwater drained from the Siesta Public Beach Park before it flows through a pipeline into the Gulf of Mexico. An ultraviolet light treatment system will be part of that process.
County commissioners have been eager to see the project completed, saying they want to prevent any necessity of closing the beach to swimming because of high bacteria counts in the gulf.
A change last year in the site plan for the stormwater drainage pond, as requested by homeowners at the Gulf & Bay Club, dictated modifications in permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Corps of Engineers.
Curtis Smith told the SKA members the county’s design team was staying in close contact with Corps representatives regarding the issuance of the final go-ahead from that agency. “I’d love to tell you when we’re going to receive that,” he said, but the Corps officials “don’t have the same types of timeframes that the state agencies have.”
The design team members have been trying to make sure Corps officials understand “how important it is for us to be able to get that [permit] modification as quickly as they can provide it,” Smith said, “and obviously, we’re not the only project they have on their desks.”
If the bid is awarded in February, Smith said, “We can start the groundwork on the project after season is over next year. There are some long lead times in the project.”
Because unique equipment has to be built for the project, he said, the contractor could stay busy with that work until season is over.
Regarding the Siesta Public Beach Park improvements, Smith said he was aware a lot of concern had arisen after his supervisor, Carolyn Eastwood of the Public Works staff, told the County Commission during the Aug. 20 budget workshop that the latest estimate for the project was between $22 million and $23 million. “It’s about $4.6 million over the currently approved $16.7 million construction budget” authorized by the County Commission, he added.
“What I’d like to stress,” he said, “is that those [higher] numbers are draft. They have not been accepted yet.”
The project team was working with the design consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, he said, “and bringing the park [plans] back within that approved construction budget.”
The project is at the 60% design stage, Smith said, which means enough information is available about the civil engineering aspects of it “that we would be able to, once those plans are accepted … submit permit applications to the state and federal agencies that have jurisdiction over that kind of work.”
After the project team presented the 30% design plans to the County Commission in September 2011, Smith explained, county staff gave guidance to the design team to include certain features in the plans that staff felt “would help to meet the vision” for the plans as indicated by Siesta Key stakeholders.
At that 60% stage, he said, the design team members said, “‘Here’s what you asked for; here’s how much it will cost … and that’s what we’re now working to bring down.’”
After the open house, the team would incorporate any new suggestions into the design, Smith said, then present the latest plans to the County Commission with information also on “what the end project budget might look like.”
When Commissioner Nora Patterson, who was a guest at the SKA meeting, noted that she disapproved of a budget higher than $12 million for the park improvements, Smith reiterated that the County Commission had approved the $16.7 million figure.
“It’s not real clear that we can come up with those dollars at this point in time,” Patterson said, “nor do you have a commission vote to spend $16.7 million in total … to do the project all at once.”
The current timeline calls for the improvements to be completed in 2024, though Commissioner Joe Barbetta has been a strong advocate for using bond revenue to make it possible for all the work to be completed in a much faster timeframe.
Smith told Patterson, “The next step in that [process] is to present phasing that will meet the budget that is approved, which relies on surtax receipts over a long timeframe.”
Patterson agreed that the commissioners had asked for a phasing plan over several years, “but also what the consequences would be to do it all at once …”
When SKA President Catherine Luckner asked for more information about the plans for parking in the design, Smith said the design team believed the maximum number of spaces could be created through a perpendicular parking arrangement in the lots, instead of angled parking.
One aspect of the situation that needed to be remedied, he added, was “the fact that the parking lot does not flow well.”
The current arrangement for ingress and egress, he pointed out, enables a vehicle to keep traffic backed up behind it while the driver is waiting to see whether someone is going to back out of a space.
The new plan should “help people get from one side [of the lot] to another a little bit faster,” Smith said.
Patterson pointed out that one of the biggest controversies she had heard about the proposed design was its inclusion of a 15-foot esplanade from one end of the park to the other, with pathways leading from the main parking lot to that esplanade.
People have complained the design allows for only 130 extra spaces, Patterson said. “Wouldn’t it add a reasonable amount of parking as well as reduce costs to eliminate the esplanade?”
Smith said the county’s traffic engineer, who designed the parking lot in the plan, “said that eliminating the esplanade doesn’t give you another row of parking. … It just doesn’t provide enough extra room [though] it would end up expanding the green space in the parking lot.”
At best, Smith added, the possibility existed that 10 more spaces could be added to the main lot by modifying the design for the pathways to the esplanade.