Two Siesta organizations plead for County Commission to continue to seek intensive environmental analysis of Lido renourishment project

Lido residents and Sarasota’s city manager argue again for the need for FDEP to issue the permit

Lido Key properties are easily visible across Big Pass from Siesta Key’s north end. File photo

The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Siesta Key Association this week called for the Sarasota County Commission to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Lido Renourishment Project.

At the same time, Lido Key residents and Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin have made last-minute pleas to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to issue a permit to the city and the USACE for the $19-million project.

In a Nov. 29 letter to County Commission Chair Alan Maio, Gina Paduano Ralph, chief of the USACE’s Environmental Branch at the Jacksonville District Office, wrote that the federal agency did not believe an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was warranted for the Lido project, which has been designed to dredge 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a 1.6-mile segment of South Lido Key Beach.

Just two days later, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, told an audience of about 110 people at the Siesta Key Association’s regular meeting that the more in-depth study of potential negative impacts on the pass and the shoreline should be a necessity before the project goes forward.

A graphic from the USACE shows the general project area. Image courtesy FDEP

FDEP has set a Dec. 27 deadline to make public its intent to issue or deny a permit for the Lido project. In a Dec. 14 email to County Administrator Tom Harmer, Carolyn Brown, director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, alerted him to that deadline. She added, “Any interested party has 14 days to file a petition challenging the proposed agency action. Depending on when the [Notice of Intent] is issued, the 14 day petition period would end prior to the next Board meeting date on January 10, 2017.”

The County Commission held its last two meetings of the year this week. No board member or staff member raised the issue of the USACE’s Nov. 29 response.

The Siesta Chamber letter

On Dec. 13, Siesta Chamber Chair Mark Smith wrote the commissioners on behalf of his board members, urging them “to express our grave concerns over the decision by the [USACE] to disregard your request for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) prior to dredging Big Sarasota Pass and the installation of groins [on South Lido].”

The construction of the two groins has been proposed to help keep the sand in place on the beach between renourishments, which have been projected to take place from five to seven years apart.

Mark Smith. File photo

Smith pointed out that the commission’s Aug. 24 letter to the USACE, seeking the EIS, was prompted by the conclusions of the Atkins firm. After it undertook a peer review of the USACE/City of Sarasota proposal — under contract with the county — Atkins’ team concluded that insufficient modeling had been performed to predict what effects the dredging might have on the pass or Siesta Key.

(The Siesta Key Association’s July 14 request for the County Commission to call for an EIS led to the Aug. 24 letter.)

Smith noted that the amount of sand to be dredged from Big Pass during the initial renourishment exceeds the combined total for three previous such undertakings on Lido Key Beach. Those amounts were as follows, he continued: In 2001, 360,000 cubic yards; in 2003, 125,000; and in 2009, 464,000 cubic yards.

Smith added that sand has been placed on Lido 12 times since 1964, “on an average of every 4 years,” and the average dredged amount of sand has been 253,000 cubic yards.

The USACE’s Nov. 29 letter to the commission stated that the agency conducted a sand search to identify offshore sources, Smith continued, “‘but no compatible offshore sand was identified within an economically feasible distance of Lido Key [his emphasis].’

“What is the economic impact to Sarasota County if navigation in Big Sarasota Pass is adversely impacted as a result of the dredge?”

Given the fact that the county’s own Ted Sperling Park is located right next to the area where the groins are proposed to be built, Smith also questioned what would happen if the project resulted in negative consequences for park users and the park’s shoreline. Further, he asked what would happen if the Lido and Siesta Key beaches suffered serious consequences.

Smith went on to respond to 10 factors the USACE cited in its Nov. 29 letter as points to be considered in making a decision on undertaking an EIS. He noted that the USACE letter concluded, “‘No significant concerns have been raised, either by the state and Federal agencies, or by the public.’” Smith added, “I don’t know where they have been over the past years but thousands of petitions have been sent to the [USACE] and FDEP to stop this dredging project. [The commission’s] letter requesting an EIS is apparently deemed insignificant.”

The SKA communication

SKA Second Vice President Catherine Luckner. File photo

In a Dec. 12 email to the County Commission, Catherine Luckner, first vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), pointed out that FDEP’s period for public comments on the Lido project would end on Dec. 15. She then asked the board whether it would respond to the USACE letter of Nov. 29.

“The Siesta Key Association is greatly concerned as the request for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was minimized and declined based upon inaccurate information,” Luckner added. “We again request your advocacy for this NEPA process which would benefit the Applicant, City of Sarasota, and our entire Sarasota community. This project and our coastal environment [deserve] the best assessment prior to alteration of a natural system that appears to be working well.”

Luckner continued, “As you know, the Sarasota Bay and Big Sarasota Pass are dedicated as Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW). The Sarasota Big Pass has been charted and recorded as a natural inlet, without any history of dredging, documented on a well known 1883 Geodetic map.”

Luckner also pointed out, “This plan may not be consistent with Rule 62B-441.005(5) of the Florida Administrative Code,” which, she continued, “stipulates that structures such as groins that interfere with natural alongshore movement of sediments shall not be allowed unless a net positive benefit to the coastal system can be reasonably expected to occur.”

In an email to the County Commission last month, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), a nonprofit organized to fight the dredging of Big Pass, also urged the County Commission to persist in calling for an EIS. SOSS2 has been raising money in earnest since the summer to file a lawsuit to stop any removal of sand from the waterway, if that proves necessary.

The other side of the pass

Lido residents and city representatives continue to urge FDEP to issue a permit for the project.

In a Dec. 8 letter to editors of numerous community publications, Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), wrote, “Siesta Key is again propagating misinformation as a scare tactic to raise money to prevent Lido Key from being renourished,” referring to a newsletter distributed by SOSS2. The LKR called SOSS2’s objections “non-scientific, based on personal fear, and motivated by personal and commercial interests.”

Carl Shoffstall. File photo

The LKRA letter added, “In reality, [the USACE] has done extensive research and environmental studies of the impact of the dredging. Years of research and modeling have concluded there will be no damage. Siesta’s group fails to report that the City and [the USACE] have incorporated into the permit extensive monitoring of the project so that if there is any negative impact or unforeseen issues they will be addressed accordingly.”

The letter also said that the Big Pass ebb shoal has grown at least fourfold in the past 10 years, thanks to “sand flowing south from Lido Key beach …” Yet, the proposed project would use only 5% of the shoal, the letter noted. “Also it will improve navigation in Big Pass — boaters say navigation is a major problem now and it will help protect North Siesta from channel erosion.”

The letter further pointed out that sand from New Pass would be used, as well as sediment from Big Pass, over the planned 50-year life of the federal project. “Lido beach sand will always continue to drift south no matter what, thus ensuring Siesta Key will continue to receive sand,” the letter added.

“Damage to buildings and wildlife has already occurred,” the letter continued. “Lido Key has no protection for 2017 even if plans move at full speed from this point, and a large storm could further damage the environment, buildings and infrastructure. The economic impact of a continued delay of the renourishment of Lido Key beach is huge.”

On Dec. 7, Sarasota City Manager Barwin emailed Greg Garis, the FDEP project manager overseeing the Lido permit application. Barwin wrote, “As you may know Lido Key is less than one year, and/or one tropical storm away from likely experiencing property damage and perhaps serious infrastructure damage due to serious shoreline erosion.”

Having served as a city manager for 35 years — including the past 4 1/2 years in the City of Sarasota — Barwin added that he long has held the view that the top priority of government is public safety. “For this reason I urge the FDEP to permit the pending City/US Army Corp application to stabilize the Lido Key shoreline by carefully recycling the massive accretions of the sand, from select areas, [that] once rested on Lido and Longboat Keys back to Lido.”

City Manager Tom Barwin. File photo

Furthermore, Barwin wrote, “The emotional representations and threats of litigation from some area residents appear to be based on fear and paranoia and not facts or experience. Nonetheless … the city has committed to unprecedented monitoring of Lido, Siesta and Big Pass to make certain we can document … if any unanticipated things happen that negatively impact Lido or Siesta Keys, Big Pass or any other natural or manmade assets of the Gulf, boating channels, and Sarasota Bay. Timely adjustments would be made accordingly,” he added, guaranteeing, “[long-term] negatives will not be possible.”

Barwin continued, “On behalf of the City of Sarasota I wanted to convey to you all of the careful work, research, listening, and the ethical commitment we have had and continue to have to do no harm while upholding our responsibility to public safety, fiscal responsibility and being good neighbors and citizens.”