The nonprofit organizations filed petitions this week, seeking a formal administrative hearing
Two nonprofit organizations this week petitioned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for a formal administrative hearing in response to the department’s Dec. 22 announcement of its intent to issue a permit to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach.
The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) filed its petition with the department on Jan. 4, while Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and three individuals jointly filed a petition the following day, FDEP documents show.
The FWF contends in its challenge that the proposed issuance of a 15-year permit for the project would be a violation of the federal Clean Water Act and that the application for the dredging does not comply with water quality standards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved for the State of Florida.
It also argues that the project “will directly destroy 1.68 acres of sea grasses” and result in adverse impacts on about 4.03 more acres of such aquatic plant life. Yet, the city, the USACE and FDEP have failed to provide an appropriate seagrass mitigation plan, the petition adds.
The city has gained the approval of the Manatee County Commission to undertake the mitigation in the 176-acre Perico Preserve that Manatee County created on the north side of Manatee Avenue, east of the Anna Maria Bridge and Neal Preserve.
The SOSS2 petition argues that the removal of 1.1 million cubic yards of sand from the ebb shoals of Big Pass “will negatively impact the natural drift of sand onto the Siesta Key beaches, impact the navigation of [the 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.” It adds that the dredging also will “impact the local wave climate in ways that are not adequately assessed, particularly with regards to potential increases in wave energy and changes in wave patterns on Siesta Key.” It contends, “There is no evidence or analysis that demonstrates that the removal of sand from the ebb shoal would be benign.”
Peter van Roekens, chair of SOSS2, Diane Erne and Jeanne Ezcurra are the individual petitioners named with SOSS2. All are Siesta Key residents.
Sarasota County and the Siesta Key Association (SKA) both won 10 extra days from FDEP for the filing of petitions. (See the related article in this issue.)
To the knowledge of The Sarasota News Leader, no other entity sought an extension of the 14-day period FDEP allows, under state regulations, for an administrative challenge of a Notice of Intent. Greg Garis, the FDEP manager overseeing the Lido Renourishment project application, announced the department’s decision in an email he sent to affected parties after 5 p.m. on Dec. 22.
The FWF explains in its petition that it is a not-for-profit “conservation protection corporation” with its headquarters in Tallahassee and regional offices in Naples and St. Augustine. It adds that it has more than 14,000 members and approximately 60,000 supporters, “who use and enjoy the surface waters of the State of Florida for recreational and aesthetic purposes …”
Its attorney in the matter is Thomas W. Reese of St. Petersburg.
In its petition, SOSS2 points out that USACE “has designed and stated the overall project will be over the course of fifty years” and will result in total dredging of up to 6.6 million cubic yards of material from Big Pass.
The waterway between Lido and Siesta keys never has been dredged, Siesta residents and county leaders have noted. Big Pass has been open since 1888, the SOSS2 petition says, citing the “first historical charts of the region.”
The petition also explains that Lido Key was manmade, resulting from the filling in of small mangrove islands called the Cerol Isles. Conversely, the petition continues, “Siesta Key was formed from successive beach ridge growth. The largest portion of the Big Sarasota Pass ebb shoals lie immediately offshore of Siesta Key.” Those shoals, it says, shelter northern Siesta Key from storm waves.
In late 1991, the petition points out, the City of Venice planned to dredge the Big Pass shoal to renourish Venice Beach. The original Save Our Siesta (SOS) group was formed in 1992 to fight that proposal, the petition adds. Two years later, SOS was successful in petitioning to revoke the coastal construction permit, and SOS disbanded. SOSS2 was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) in March 2014 to fight the latest proposal, the petition explains.
“The dredging of Big Sarasota Pass has been studied extensively,” the petition says, and the only entities that agree that removing the volume of sand proposed will not result in irreparable damage are the City of Sarasota and the USACE.
“Dr. Robert Dolan, a professor of Coastal Geology at [the] University of Virginia, stated it best in a 1998 letter to Dr. Richard Shriner,” the petition continues: “I can only reach the conclusion that if an engineer develops a plan to remove a significant volume of sand from Big Pass Shoal, he or she must be basing that plan on faith and perhaps experience, not quantitative data and analyses.”
Dolan added in a letter to state officials, “The problem is that the coupling of Siesta Key and Big Pass Shoal is so direct, but unfortunately not understood, that even a 10 percent error in the estimate of the amount of sand that could be removed could very easily lead to a significant response along Siesta Key. … At best, it would be a lucky guess outcome; at worst it would be a disaster that would be next to impossible to correct once done.”
The petition points out, “No comprehensive study of the immediate coastal system surrounding Sarasota Bay has been performed.” Given the fact that multiple dredging projects have been pursued “to build beaches in Sarasota County,” it adds, “[i]t is critical for new projects such as this one … that [FDEP} demand an examination of the cumulative environmental impacts to habitat and the [sand-sharing] system of all activities within the county, and for the additional impacts of this new project in particular.”
SOSS2 says in the petition that it has more than 1,300 members in Sarasota County and that more than 4,000 households receive its monthly newsletters.
SOSS2 and the three individual petitioners are represented by Martha M. Collins of the Collins Law Group in Tampa.