Private property owners may have to pony up more for the next renourishment
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Private property owners facing the Gulf of Mexico on south Siesta Key may end up paying a higher percentage of the cost of renourishing their beach as a result of the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy’s assault on the northeastern U.S. shoreline in 2012.
That was a possibility the Sarasota County commissioners discussed this week as they pondered a potential $19.8 million cost of adding more sand to that section of Siesta beach.
In unanimous support of a motion by Commissioner Nora Patterson, county staff will proceed with seeking bids for the renourishment project, which encompasses an approximately 2-mile stretch that includes Turtle Beach Park. However, the board may choose not to approve a contract if bids come in close to $20 million, as the county’s design and permitting consultant has expected. At the same time, staff will work with the county’s new lobbying firm and the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) to try to persuade legislators to contribute more next year to a pot of funds from which communities can seek funding assistance for renourishment efforts.
Coastal Resources Manager Laird Wreford explained to the board on Aug. 20 — as he had to The Sarasota News Leader in July — that beach restoration projects necessitated by Sandy had led to a huge demand for the limited number of ocean-going vessels that can harvest sand offshore. Therefore, he said, “the cost of beach nourishment … just skyrocketed.”
In early July, Wreford estimated the south Siesta project — which has been slated to begin in January 2015 — would cost about $18 million. The earliest estimate was for $11.5 million.
Private property owners were assessed 17 percent of the cost of the initial nourishment, Wreford explained, which was completed in March 2007 at a cost of $11.2 million.
However, Commissioner Joe Barbetta pointed out that because much of the upcoming undertaking will be putting sand in front of private property, the owners should shoulder more of the burden. In fact, he noted, rock revetment along the shore in one section of the south Siesta shoreline “is obviously a factor with some of the erosion taking place.”
He added, “Maybe that’s where we make up some of the difference if we don’t get the full amount of state funding,” referring to the $7 million grant the county hopes to obtain.
To help cover the potentially higher overall expense, Wreford proposed that those property owners be assessed 19 percent of the cost, or $3.8 million.
Patterson noted that when the original nourishment was undertaken on south Siesta Key, “it was the first we’d ever done where we assessed people.” That assessment totaled $1.9 million, which was 17 percent of the original cost.
Two other factors that have a “tug,” as Wreford characterized it, on the county’s own beach renourishment account are an expected $1 million request by the City of Sarasota to add more sand to a planned renourishment of a section of Lido Key severely eroded by Tropical Storm Debby in 2012 and an anticipated $1.5 million request from the City of Venice to supplement the municipal funding it has available for a renourishment project.
The need and the cost
During his Aug. 20 presentation, Wreford pointed out that the southern portion of the original southern Siesta nourishment area “has drastically eroded away,” returning to the pre-project limits. “There are many folks that are extremely interested and desperate for the quickest possible … renourishment of that project as is possible.”
He added, “Our goal has been to streamline the permitting process so as to be positioned to begin this project this coming January.” That way, he continued, it would be complete before turtle nesting season starts on May 1. By state law, the work cannot be under way while turtles are nesting on the beach.
However, not only did staff not anticipate the cost increase related to Superstorm Sandy, he said, but it also did not expect the increase in competition it had seen for state beach renourishment funds.
“We still believe there’s a good chance of obtaining [the state money], but there’s clearly no guarantee,” he told the board.
If the county received the $7 million from the state even up to three years after the work began, he explained, the money could be used to repay funds advanced from the local renourishment account, which is generated by a portion of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) revenue.
Patterson talked of feeling shortchanged in learning of the Sandy factor in the cost of the new project. However, she pointed out that the two condominium complexes that have the rock revetments on south Siesta Key “aren’t going to wash away” if the renourishment is delayed.
One private home with a pool is seriously threatened by the erosion, she noted, but the $19.8 million estimate is “a lot of money to rescue somebody’s swimming pool.”
Wreford said staff has been concerned about Turtle Beach as well. “It is in an ever-narrowing and steepening pattern right now. … It has been fairly drastically changing since the last nourishment.”
When Patterson asked County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh whether the board could proceed with seeking bids for the project and then decline to award a contract if all the bids come in high, he responded that the board does not have to commit to an expenditure in such a case.
County Project Manager Curtis Smith told the commissioners current plans call for advertising for the bids in September. It takes about 120 days, he added, to reach the point of a recommendation from the Procurement Department regarding the lowest responsible bid.
Patterson said that if contractors hear that “an outrageous bid maybe means we’re not going to do [the project] this year, maybe they’ll cut a little closer.”
The Debby project
During an earlier discussion of the City of Sarasota’s emergency renourishment of a section of the southern third of Lido Key, Wreford told the commissioners that just the previous day, city staff had learned the results of a study about how much additional sand could be added to the project already authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): 44,000 cubic yards.
This interim solution for Lido is approximately one-tenth of the scope of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for stabilizing 1.6 miles of that key’s shoreline. (See the related story this week.)
With the FEMA permit, the city already had planned to dredge 120,000 cubic yards of sand from New Pass. The extra sand could come from the same source.
Doreen Buonpastore of the county’s Office of Financial Management told the commissioners the city had communicated with county staff about the need for $2 million in the 2016 fiscal year and another $2 million in the 2017 fiscal year for its renourishment projects. The city’s account derived from TDT renourishment funds stood at $2.3 million at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, Buonpastore said. Even with conservative projections for growth in TDT revenue over the next several fiscal years, she added, the account would be able to accommodate the $4 million in needs, but not the extra $1 million.
Therefore, Patterson pointed out, the county would need to provide the additional money for the Debby project out of its own funds.
Alex DavisShaw, the city’s engineer, told the board city staff has no certainty about when it will need funding to match federal money for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Lido Renourishment Project. “It could be two years; it could be three years.”
Matt Osterhoudt, the county’s acting director of natural resources, noted that the County Commission did not need to make a decision this week on allocating the $1 million. It could act after receiving the formal request from the city, he said. Therefore, no vote was taken on Aug. 20.