Siesta Key Association members invite county staffer to make presentation on plans at December meeting
Leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) have invited Sarasota County’s Environmental Protection Division manager to appear at a meeting later this year to discuss details of the planned renourishment of south Siesta Key Beach via truck-hauled sand in early 2023.
In an Aug. 25 email that SKA directors shared with The Sarasota News Leader, Rachel Herman of Environmental Protection attached to the email a fact sheet about the project, which will take place in the area of Turtle Beach Park.
Herman added, “Further, monthly updates will be available on the ‘Projects in My Neighborhood’ website, which you can access HERE starting in September.”
SKA Director Robert Luckner let the News Leader know that the SKA board had suggested that Herman make a presentation to the nonprofit’s members on Dec. 1. That date, he added, “will allow people to plan their activity [during the project period] and provide suggestions to the project staff in time for an ability to influence the decisions.”
Herman told News Leader via email on Aug. 30 that the speaker who would address the renourishment project during that SKA meeting had yet to be determined, but she likely would be in attendance.
In a unanimous vote on Feb. 23, the County Commission approved the south Siesta undertaking, which has been designed to restore the area of shoreline that Hurricane Hermine damaged in September 2016.
A county staff memo provided to the board members in advance of the meeting explained that the hurricane made her way through the Gulf of Mexico only about four months after the second renourishment of south Siesta was completed; that initiative cost about $21.5 million. The work began on March 9, 2016 and was finished prior to the official May 1 start of sea turtle nesting season.
Residents whose homes are located along the affected portion of the shoreline are paying 16.51% of the total county expense through assessments imposed over seven years. The county commissioners approved the same sharing of the cost of the initial South Siesta Key Renourishment Project, which was completed in 2007.
For both of those undertakings, sand was brought in from offshore. However, next year, the plans call for using trucks to bring in approximately 92,000 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand “from approved upland sources” to be placed on the beach from Turtle Beach Park south, Herman’s new fact sheet explains.
Having learned early this year of the plans for trucks to bring in the sand, SKA Director Luckner addressed the county commissioners on Feb. 23, expressing concerns about that proposal.
As Luckner pointed out, a “large convoy of dump trucks” would have be bringing sand across the Stickney Point Road drawbridge and then down South Midnight Pass Road to Turtle Beach Park. Especially during the height of tourist season — which is the timeline for the 2023 initiative — that would exacerbate traffic congestion on the south approach to Siesta Key and along the only route that residents, visitors and workers have to use on south Siesta.
Yet another concern, Luckner noted, is the fact that, if legal challenges to the commissioners late 2021 approval of two high-rise hotels on the barrier island are unsuccessful, vehicles related to the construction of those projects also could be in the traffic mix with the trucks hauling sand.
Typically, when a person addresses them during an Open to the Public comment period during one of their meetings, the commissioners offer no responses. They adhered to that unwritten policy in regard to Luckner’s Feb. 23 remarks.
More details from the new county fact sheet
Although the renourishment initially was planned for 2024, the fact sheet that Herman of Environmental Protection sent to the SKA leaders explains, “The project is on an accelerated schedule as a result of a very tight grant deadline.”
Construction is expected to begin in February 2023 and to be completed by April 30, 2023 — again, to comply with state regulations regarding the protection of nesting sea turtles.
The normal work hours would be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, the fact sheet says
“Engineering services for design and permitting are being procured at this time,” the sheet notes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay for 75% of the expense, the sheet adds, with the remainder expected to come from the state and from the county’s Tourist Development Tax — or, “bed tax” — revenue that is dedicated to renourishment initiatives.
Further, the fact sheet points out, “The county project team is communicating with several Florida locales that have previously built projects with trucked sand, to ensure best practices are identified early and incorporated into this project.”
The Town of Longboat Key is among the communities in Florida that have used truck-hauled sand for beach renourishment.
“The project team will work with [county] Public Works staff to develop a plan for managing traffic,” the fact sheet continues. “While no construction project can be completely free of inconvenience,” the fact sheet says, “the team will work with the local community and the contractor to actively monitor and minimize traffic impacts.”
During a Longboat Key renourishment undertaking in 2016, then-Town Manager Dave Bullock explained to SKA members several years ago, the trucks exited Interstate 75 onto Fruitville Road and then used the Ringling Causeway Bridge and State Road 789 — including Gulf of Mexico Drive — to reach their destination on that barrier island.
Further, Herman’s fact sheet says that the potential impacts of the trucks on Midnight Pass Road’s pavement “will be investigated” during the design of the project “and will be monitored throughout construction.” If any damage occurs, the fact sheet adds, that will be repaired before the project concludes.