County staff wins FDEP permission for second access to shoreline through Turtle Beach Park, with contractor having secured services of up to 65 trucks to bring in sand
On April 17, Sarasota County staff signed an $8,284,283.10 contract with Ahtna Marine & Construction Co. LLC, which is based in Irvine, Calif., for the South Siesta Key Beach Repair Project, county Capital Projects Department staff told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
Subsequently, on April 18, the News Leader received a formal notice that the initiative would begin soon, “with an anticipated completion in June 2023.”
When the News Leader checked with county staff later on April 18, Media Relations Officer Brianne Lorenz reported, “The contractor has begun staging equipment in the project area, but will not begin work just yet.”
Curtis Smith, a member of the Capital Projects team who is managing the initiative, conveyed the following to the News Leader via Lorenz: “The contractor has secured the services of about 60-65 trucks. Ideally, each truck can make two trips per day.”
In December 2022, Smith told members of the Siesta Key Association that county staff expected that 100 trucks a day would bring the sand, from an inland mine, onto the barrier island.
The goal is to place about 92,000 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand on a stretch of the south Siesta shoreline that was renourished in the spring of 2016. Hurricane Hermine washed away part of that sand when she passed offshore about four months later.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agreed to give the county a grant covering 87.5% of the expense of the repair project, but the work had to be finished before the end of June, Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, told the commissioners on March 7. Additionally, she said, after completion of the initiative, staff would be able to seek another 40% of the county’s expense from the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).
FEMA also was the entity that proposed the truck-haul project, Herman has explained to the commissioners in the past. That is because of the much smaller volume of sand for this undertaking than the 713,563 cubic yards that a contractor spread over approximately 2.1 miles, including Turtle Beach, in 2016.
The Siesta Key Association (SKA) has been fighting the timing of the undertaking since its leaders learned that the work was proposed to begin this spring, at the height of tourist season. South Siesta residents and business owners, especially, have complained that the estimated 100 trucks a day would exacerbate the traffic congestion on that portion of the barrier island. The trucks would come onto the Key via Stickney Point Road and then head south at the Midnight Pass Road intersection.
As a result of those complaints, prior to her death early this month, Commissioner Nancy Detert and Rob Lewis, director of governmental relations for the county, met with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott earlier this year to seek their help in trying to win FEMA’s agreement to delay the initiative until November, during a typically quieter tourism period on the island.
U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota County Republican, did send a letter to FEMA, asking that the agency extend its deadline.
County Project Manager Smith told SKA Treasurer Robert Luckner that staff still was awaiting a response from FEMA as of early this week, Luckner let the News Leader know.
SKA officers did win approval last month from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for an extra two weeks to challenge the initial FDEP permit for the South Siesta Beach Repair Project. However, at the end of that period, the SKA decided not to submit a formal challenge after all. In an email to the News Leader, SKA Treasurer Luckner — husband of President Catherine Luckner — wrote, “I think we have done all we can for now.”
Further modification of the FDEP permit
Because of the tight timeline for completion of the initiative, a representative of the Wilmington, N.C., consulting firm working with the county — ATM, a division of Geosyntec Co. — contacted FDEP staff on April 11, requesting authorization to modify the permit that the department issued on Feb. 24 for the work.
Robert Neal, senior engineer for ATM, wrote that the county wanted authorization to use two 20-foot dune access pathways for the South Siesta Key Repair Project and an additional staging area. The Feb. 24 permit allowed only one such dune access path, he pointed out.
Like the first one, the second access path would be in Turtle Beach Park, Neal noted.
(Smith, the county project manager, told the News Leader this week, “The purpose of the second access is to increase the efficiency of offloading sand.”)
“Standard (on-road) dump trucks will use the accesses to deliver sand to the authorized beachfront stockpile site in efforts to transfer the material to off-road trucks,” Neal explained in his letter.
“Please note,” he continued, “the accesses will be stabilized with mats that will be removed after construction. (Shell based rock will not be used.)”
Further, he wrote, the additional staging area would be within the park’s boat ramp site. It “will be used as overflow parking for the on-road trucks.”
In an April 14 response, Gregory W. Garis, administrator of FDEP’s Beaches, Inlets and Ports Program, wrote that FDEP representatives had reviewed Neal’s request “and determined that the proposed activity is not expected to result in adverse impacts to the coastal system or biological resources.”
Garis then pointed out that FDEP staff had “taken the opportunity to administratively revise the permit to include updated language to the General Conditions and correct typographical errors that were inadvertently left in [the Feb. 24 document, which modified the original South Siesta Key Beach Renourishment Project permit, dating to November 2006].”
Permit sketches for the project, provided by ATM as part of the FDEP permit file — and also dated April 14 — include these details, along with aerial images of the project area taken in December 2021 and February 2022:
- 2. “CONTRACTOR SHALL MAINTAIN 2-LANE TRAFFIC OPEN TO THE PUBLIC ADJACENT TO STAGING AREAS OR PROVIDE FLAGMEN ALONG BOTH SIDES OF STAGING SITE TO DIRECT TRAFFIC FLOW.
- 3. “SECONDARY STAGING AREA SHALL BE PROVIDED DAILY AT COUNTY DISCRETION AND SHALL ONLY BE USED FOR OVERFLOW TRUCK PARKING. NO OTHER EQUIPMENT OR MATERIALS SHALL BE ALLOWED & ALL EXISTING VEGETATION SHALL BE PROTECTED.
- 4. “CONTRACTOR SHALL SCHEDULE & MANAGE THE CONSTRUCTION OPERATIONS TO AVOID IMPEDING THE NORMAL FLOW OF TRAFFIC IN TURTLE BEACH PARK, ALONG MIDNIGHT PASS ROAD, AND ALONG THE TRAVEL PATH TO AND FROM THE UPLAND SAND SOURCE (MINE).
- 5. “CONTRACTOR SHALL NOT STAGE OR STORE EQUIPMENT, TRUCKS, OR SUPPLIES OUTSIDE OF THE DESIGNATED AREAS SHOWN ON THE PLANS AND IDENTIFIED BY SARASOTA COUNTY WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN (EMAIL) APPROVAL FROM THE COUNTY OR ENGINEER.
- 6. “VEHICLE AND TRAILER ACCESS TO THE BOAT RAMP SHALL REMAIN OPEN.
- 7. “CONTRACTOR SHALL BE PROVIDED A 20-FT WIDE TRUCK ACCESS CORRIDOR ACROSS THE EXISTING DUNE. THE CONTRACTOR SHALL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR RESTORING THE DUNE, SIDEWALKS, ROPE & BOLLARD FENCE, PALM TREES, CURB STOPS, ASPHALT PAVEMENT, AND ALL OTHER DAMAGE INCURRED AS PART OF THE WORK, TO THE PRE-CONSTRUCTION CONDITION, AS DETERMINED BY THE ENGINEER.
- 8. “VEGETATION RESTORATION SHALL CONSIST OF LINER-SIZED NATIVE SEED STOCK SEAOATS INSTALLED ON 18-INCH CENTERS TO FILL THE DISTURBED CONSTRUCTION ACCESS. CONTRACTOR SHALL WARRANTY 80% SURVIVAL FOR A 180-DAY PERIOD.
- 9. “CONTRACTOR SHALL NOT STOCKPILE SAND ON EXISTING VEGETATION OUTSIDE OF THE 20-FT TRUCK ACCESS CORRIDOR.
- 10. “CONTRACTOR SHALL PREVENT MATERIAL SPILLAGE OR OVERFLOW ONTO PAVED ROADWAYS & PARKING LOTS. ROADWAYS AND PARKING LOTS SHALL BE CLEANED IMMEDIATELY IN THE EVENT OF MATERIAL SPILLAGE OR OVERFLOW/TRACKING.
- 11. “CONTRACTOR TO ENCLOSE STAGING AND ACCESS AREAS WITH FENCES OR OTHER BARRIERS TO PROHIBIT PUBLIC ACCESS INTO THE RESPECTIVE AREAS, INCLUSIVE OF IMMEDIATE WORK AREAS AND THE BEACH STOCKPILE SITE.
- 12. “SARASOTA COUNTY HAS IDENTIFIED 3 ACTIVE GOPHER TORTOISE BURROWS NEAR THE TURTLE BEACH TRUCK ACCESS. THE BURROWS WILL BE MARKED BY SARASOTA COUNTY PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION. THE CONTRACTOR SHALL MAINTAIN A 25-FT BUFFER FROM THE MARKED BURROW.
- 13. “CONTRACTOR SHALL INSTALL AND MAINTAIN SILT FENCING ADJACENT TO THE PEDESTRIAN BARRIERS ENCOMPASSING THE STAGING AND ACCESS AREA TO DISCOURAGE GOPHER TORTOISES FROM ENTERING THE WORK AREA.
- 14. “CONTRACTOR SHALL PROVIDE, INSTALL, AND MAINTAIN TWO (2) PORTABLE CHANGEABLE MESSAGE SIGNS IN LOCATIONS SPECIFIED BY SARASOTA COUNTY AT THE PRECONSTRUCTION CONFERENCE. THE SIGNS SHALL STATE ‘CAUTION TRUCKS ENTERING ROADWAY’ AND SHALL BE IN ACCORDANCE WITH FDOT SPECIFICATIONS AND THE MANUAL OF UNIFORM TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICES (MUTCD).”
A SKA protest
On April 14, SKA Treasurer Robert Luckner forwarded to the News Leader copies of his recent email exchange with Rachel Grundl, an environmental specialist with FDEP’s Beaches, Inlets and Ports Program, in which he protested the fact that the department would allow the beach repair project to proceed in spite of the presence of the gopher tortoise burrows.
At the time of his correspondence, he noted that two such burrows had been identified within the “proposed and expanded dune access area.”
“As you are aware,” Luckner wrote, “Florida Gopher Tortoises in Rule 68A-27.003 are listed as a threatened species and are to be afforded protective provisions. It would appear that that [a] Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission permit [would be needed],” he added and then included the following URLs: (https://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-12193 ) and (https://www.flrules.org/Gateway/reference.asp?No=Ref-12192 )
“It would appear that the two requested dune cuts will be adjacent to the two burrow areas,” Luckner continued, which meant the burrows would experience the disruptions produced by approximately 100, 20-ton dump trucks per day for more than 40 days.
He then asked, “Will the modified permit require the County:
- “To obtain a [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] FWC permit for this disturbance?
- “To be required to mitigate the disturbance of this threatened species?
- “To survey again for relocated the tortoises?”
He added, “SKA does not support this [permit modification] request and [asks] that you not facilitate the doubling of the rate of trucks and disturbance of the tortoises. I understand that work may start next week!”
Then, on April 17, Luckner forwarded to the News Leader a copy of his email exchange with county Project Manager Smith, which took place late in the afternoon of April 16.
Smith wrote that the modified FDEP permit contains conditions “relating to protection of gopher tortoises (Specific Condition 17). There is no a priori gopher tortoise permit to obtain before starting construction on our project, unless we identify gopher tortoises in a location that unavoidably conflicts with construction activities. In the event of an unavoidable conflict, we will be required to relocate the affected tortoise. Relocation requires a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. We are planning for an updated gopher tortoise survey to determine whether there are any current conflicts.”
Specific Condition 17 of the modified FDEP permit says, “Fill Restrictions. During the marine turtle nesting season, the contractor shall not advance the beach fill more than 500 feet along the shoreline between dusk and the following day, until the daily nesting survey is completed, and the beach has been cleared for fill advancement. If the 500-foot advancement limitation is not feasible for the project, an alternative distance shall be established during the preconstruction meeting, if a distance can be agreed upon in consultation with the FWC. If the work area is extended, nighttime nesting surveys are required, and a Marine Turtle Permit Holder is required to be present on-site to ensure that no nesting and hatching marine turtles are present. If any nesting turtles are sighted on the beach within the immediate construction area, activities shall cease immediately until the turtle has returned to the water and the Marine Turtle Permit Holder responsible for nest monitoring has relocated the nest.”
Smith added in his April 16 email response to Luckner, “The second modification does include a 14-day challenge period. It only refers to the specific activities authorized in that modification. We have the option to instruct the contractor to proceed with the originally planned single access during the challenge period. Therefore, the challenge period is not an obstacle to beginning work as originally planned.
“Given that the only grant-related date we have is the June 30, 2023 expiration deadline,” Smith continued, “coupled with the fact that the grant only applies to a completed project, it’s important that we start work early enough to ensure there is time to finish.”
On April 17, Luckner responded to Smith: “Thank you for taking the time over the weekend to provide SKA with your thinking. I agree that SKA has 14 days (until 4/28) to challenge the County’s permit to construct and use a second dune access at Turtle Beach.”
Luckner added, “SKA remains supportive of the project this Fall but believes there is too much traffic during season now. We will study our options for the next few weeks to oppose this modification to double the project’s truck traffic.
“Could you please keep us informed of you planned survey for the presence of active gopher tortoise burrows in the construction area?” he continued. “You will have a challenge to safely and efficiently complete your project by June 30th.”