City of Sarasota staff members indicate during budget workshops that the state permit for the Lido Renourishment Project is expected to be issued this fall
Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier and Deputy City Finance Director Kelly Strickland both made the point during the recent City Commission budget workshops: The permit the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) need to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key is expected to be awarded later this year by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
Therefore, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), the Siesta Key-based nonprofit organization that has been fighting any such action in the pass, is ramping up its fundraising efforts in preparation for filing a lawsuit to stop the project, two of its representatives reported during the July 5 meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA).
“This is a real threat, not only to the properties that are across from the [Big Pass] shoal but essentially to the natural renourishment of Siesta Beach itself,” Mark Smith, a Siesta Key architect who also serves as vice president of the SKVA, said of the plan to remove sand from the Big Pass ebb shoal.
SOSS2 needs to raise between $150,000 and $250,000 to fight the city/USACE project, Smith continued, adding that he will be contacting businesses to ask them to contribute to the effort.
Peter van Roekens, SOSS2 chair, told The Sarasota News Leader that the organization has received approximately $62,000 since it was founded in 2014. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
In September 2013, the USACE and the City of Sarasota formally unveiled a 50-year plan to dredge Big Pass so sand can be placed on critically eroded south Lido Key Beach. During the July 5 regular City Commission meeting, City Manager Tom Barwin noted that Tropical Storm Colin eroded about 20 to 30 feet from that beach, which necessitated fans of the Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix having to move north of their viewing area during high tide on July 2 and 3.
The proposed $19-million project called initially for about 1.3 million cubic yards of sand to be removed from the pass’ ebb shoal, but the USACE has revised that figure to 775,000 cubic yards in documentation it has provided to FDEP. The USACE and the city also propose building two groins on South Lido Key to help keep the sand in place between renourishments. Although the USACE announcement almost three years ago called for more sand to be placed on the Lido Beach about every five years, City of Sarasota Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw told the Sarasota County Commission in March that she anticipated it would be at least seven years before the second renourishment would take place after the initial sand was put on the island.
During the City Commission’s June 29 budget workshop, Strickland pointed to figures representing the funding for the project, which are included in the city’s proposed Capital Improvement Program for 2017-2021. The plan calls for $3,610,000 to be used from Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for the city to use in renourishment projects; state grant funds of $3,610,000; and $11,780,000 in the form of a federal grant.
No federal money has been awarded to the proposed renourishment initiative, USACE spokeswoman Lt. Col. Susan J. Jackson (U.S. Army Reserve) has told the News Leader. However, Jackson has pointed out that having the necessary permit from FDEP would make it easier for the USACE and the city to gain that federal money.
Two days prior to Strickland’s offering her comments, Fournier remarked to the commissioners that he had been told to expect the permit to be issued this fall. Therefore, he wanted to caution them that he anticipates a lawsuit to be filed against the city.
In a June 28 telephone interview, Fournier explained to the News Leader that no money would be set aside in his department’s budget to fight such a case. “It just would be a draw on the city’s General Fund,” he added.
Sources have told the News Leader that Greg Garis, the FDEP manager overseeing the USACE/city application for the project, has indicated that the final substantive material the state department needs before determining whether to issue the permit is a seagrass mitigation plan. Although FDEP raised several other issues in the second Request for Information it issued in October 2015 regarding the project, those are seen as minor, sources have told the News Leader.
The seagrass mitigation plan was expected to be submitted to FDEP in mid-June. However, responding last week to a News Leader request for an update, Jackson of the USACE wrote in an email, “We now anticipate sending the report in mid-July.”
The FDEP timeline
In September 2015, FDEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller explained to the News Leader the timeline for FDEP action on a pending application:
“[After the latest requested information is received], the department will have up to 30 days to determine if the application is now complete, or if additional information is needed [and] to issue another [Request for Additional Information] RAI. Once an application is deemed complete, the department has up to 90 days to take final agency action — to issue a Notice of Intent to Issue [a permit] or Notice of Intent to Deny. The challenge period of that action is within 14 days of the date of publication of the notice or written notice, whichever occurs first.”
During the July 5 SKVA meeting, van Roekens, the SOSS2 chair, reported, “We’re collecting a good bit of money from people and collecting pledges.” The latter, he said, call for people to provide the funds after the FDEP permit has been awarded.
Each business and resident needs to “make an assessment of what Siesta Key means to them,” Mark Smith said. “I would like to see the businesses pledge $100,000 and get the residents to pledge $150,000,” he added, “so we can cover [the legal expenses].”
If 20 businesses pledged $5,000 each, he pointed out, that would add up to $100,000.
As for residents: If a person owns a condominium on the beach worth $500,000, he said, “Is it worth $500 … to keep that beach intact? It seems to me it’s a pretty simple investment.”
Over the weekend, van Roekens noted, one individual had pledged $1,000.
Smith pointed out that municipalities in the past have eyed Big Pass — which never has been dredged — as a sand source. “We’ve got to get to the point where we stop it. Apparently, the only way to stop it is to take them to court.”
In the meantime, van Roekens told the 15 people present, he was invited in late June to make a presentation about the Lido Renourishment Project concerns during the annual awards banquet of the Florida Wildlife Federation, which was held in Bradenton.
Although he originally was scheduled to address the audience after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, offered remarks, van Roekens said Nelson did not end up attending the event.
Van Roekens added that his comments were well received. He kept them short, he noted, and then showed the audience the Let It Be video created in 2014 about SOSS2’s efforts to preserve Big Pass from dredging. “Everybody was pretty moved by it.”
The video shows professional singer Maria Lane of New York — who has family members in Sarasota — singing the Beatles’ song at an organ on the Big Pass shoal; she is surrounded by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.