SKA joins two other nonprofits in administrative challenge of state’s plan to issue permit for Lido Renourishment Project

SKA also explains its research showing potential for violations of City and County of Sarasota comprehensive plans

A graphic presented to the County Commission in 2014 shows facets of the proposed Lido Renourishment Project. Subsequently, one groin was removed from the plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Late on the afternoon of Jan. 13, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) formally filed its petition with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), seeking an administrative hearing on the department’s Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent to issue a permit that would allow the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach.

Three Siesta Key residents have joined the nonprofit organization in that petition, which says that the pass “and the ebb shoals at the entrance of the Pass are part of a complex system that allows the transfer and sharing of sand from Lido Key onto the beaches of Siesta Key. The large-scale dredging of sand from [the system] as contemplated in the [FDEP] Permit will negatively impact the natural drift of sand onto the Siesta Key beaches, impact the navigation of Big Sarasota Pass, diminish storm protection for those living on Siesta Key and along Big Pass, and impact anyone who uses the shoals of Big Pass for swimming, boating, and fishing.”

The SKA has retained the Tallahassee law firm of Hopping, Green & Sams to represent it. The same firm was successful in representing Siesta residents in 1994 when they fought a City of Venice proposal to dredge Big Pass for a beach renourishment project.

The evening before that petition was filed, the SKA directors announced to members during their monthly meeting that they had established the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund (SKEFD) as a means of raising tax-deductible contributions for their legal challenge of the proposed $19-million City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) project on Lido. Several people gave money to the organization that evening, including David Patton, one of the residents who joined the administrative challenge.

“Here’s the first check right here right now!” he called out from the back of the Parish Hall at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where the meeting was held.

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner addresses the audience on Jan. 12. Rachel Hackney photo

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner also pointed out during the Jan. 12 session that the SKA “has certainly been willing to share [expert testimony]” with another Siesta nonprofit fighting the proposed dredging of the pass: Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2). She indicated that the two groups could collaborate on such action “to save on some expenses.”

SOSS2 Chair Peter van Roekens, she pointed out, served many years as a member of the SKA board.

Furthermore, Robert Luckner — Catherine Luckner’s husband and a member of the SKA Environmental Committee — took the opportunity of the Jan. 12 meeting to draw attention to policies of both the City and County of Sarasota that the SKA feels can be used as the basis for legitimate challenges to the Lido Renourishment Project.

The petition

With its Jan. 13 filing, the SKA joined SOSS2 and the Florida Wildlife Federation in seeking administrative hearings on FDEP’s intent to issue the necessary permit to the City of Sarasota and the USACE.

Along with David Patton — who lives on Sandy Hook Road — the residents who have joined the organization in the challenge are William Bortz, who lives on Rockwell Lane on Siesta Key; and Michael S. Holderness, who owns property at 99 Beach Road.

The petition lists 32 material facts in FDEP’s Notice of Intent that the SKA and the three residents dispute. Among them are the following:

  • That the city and the USACE “have provided reasonable assurance that state water quality standards will not be violated, and that the potential for unanticipated impacts to water resources will be minimized to the maximum extent practicable.”
  • That the “activity is not expected to adversely affect the conservation of fish and wildlife, including endangered or threatened species, or their habitats.” It specifically questions the USACE’s anticipation that nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings will suffer no negative consequences.
  • That “the demonstrable environmental, social, and economic benefits that would accrue to the public at large as a result of this activity would exceed all demonstrable environmental, social and economic costs of the proposed activity.”
  • “That the applicants have provided adequate engineering data to evaluate the design features of the project and any potential effects to the coastal system.”

The petition points to the plan not only to dredge Big Pass but also to the design of two groins that the USACE proposes to build on South Lido to help keep sand in place between renourishments; the USACE has said more sand will be needed every five years. The FDEP permit would be for 15 years, though the USACE has called for a 50-year life of its initiative.

A graphic in the USACE documentation provided to FDEP shows the design of one groin. Image courtesy FDEP

The first groin would extend 170 feet seaward from an existing seawall, the petition says, while the second would go out 345 feet from the seawall. Each would be 9 feet wide.

The petition explains that the SKA is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1948 “for the promotion of social welfare purposes, including the protection of the environment, fish and wildlife resources, and protection of air and water quality.” It adds, “For years, the Association has been promoting policies to … establish a sustainable beach environment and prevent overdevelopment.”

The city and county policies

During the Jan. 12 SKA meeting, Robert Luckner, a chemical engineer, elaborated on comments he made to the County Commission on Jan. 10 relative to the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Robert Luckner. Rachel Hackney photo

Environmental Policy 4.6.1, he said, prohibits dredging in the Gulf of Mexico in areas under county control, “except to maintain previously dredged functional navigation channels and drainage canals.”

He showed the audience members a map depicting the areas where the USACE plans to remove sand from Big Pass. Area C, he noted, is a brand new channel the federal agency proposes to dredge to a depth of 10 feet, “right through the shoal where people park boats [near the north end of Siesta Key].”

SKA Director Joe Volpe, who noted that he is a professional engineer, said that when he saw the original USACE plans — announced in 2013 — he focused on that particular borrow area. “I kept looking at this and saying, ‘This is a boat channel into Marina Jack’s.’” Volpe was referring to the well-known marina on the city’s bayfront.

County staff told SKA Director Dan Lundy that all of the borrow areas are in the city limits, Luckner continued. However, Luckner did not believe that, he added, so he obtained maps to review.

Showing the audience a slide of one map, Luckner pointed out, “It doesn’t look to me like any of [Borrow Area] B is in the city limits.”

Nonetheless, he said, it appeared that city and USACE staff had tried to make it look as though that is within city territory.

“I can’t get a straight answer out of the county,” Luckner added.

He asked Peter van Roekens, chair of SOSS2, if van Roekens had had any success in such an attempt.

“Nope,” van Roekens replied.

“I feel like I’m being stonewalled,” Luckner said. “There are other ways to get them to tell the truth, and sometimes lawyers are involved in this.”

Lundy added that if Borrow Area B is indeed within the county’s territory, the SKA could file suit against the county — as well as the city and FDEP — over the potential for a violation of the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

(From left) Stephen Leatherman — ‘Dr. Beach’ — talks with SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner and SKA Director Daniel Lundy on Dec. 1, 2016. File photo

Luckner then pointed out that the seagrass mitigation area the city and the USACE have proposed is in Manatee County, almost 20 miles from the parts of Big Pass where dredging would destroy seagrass. County staff members have told SKA representatives that city leaders never approached the county about that mitigation plan, Luckner added.

Yet another focus of the SKA’s research, Luckner continued, has been the city’s Comprehensive Plan. That contains a policy — 3.16 — that prohibits the construction of groins except in the event of an emergency, he added.

That policy, titled Prohibition of Shoreline Hardening, says,Except in the case of emergency as provided in Chapter 161, Florida Statutes, the construction of new artificial shoreline hardening structures shall be prohibited. This action strategy does not preclude the maintenance or replacement of existing shoreline hardening structures.”

The planning for the Lido project has been going on for years, Luckner told the audience, “and the city has never declared an emergency.”