With dredge in place, sand removal from Big Pass expected to begin July 17 or 18

Final preparations underway this week for Lido Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project

A map provided by MarineTraffic.com shows the location of the Rockbridge dredge — the image similar to a bull’s eye — off the southern end of Lido Key on the morning of July 15. Image from MarineTraffic.com

Early in the morning of July 15, Cottrell Contracting Corp.’s dredge Rockbridge finally appeared in Big Sarasota Pass.

Responding to a Sarasota News Leader question about when the removal of sand would begin for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project, Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota, wrote in a July 15 email, “The contractor has some final preparations to make and anticipates actual dredging will begin Friday or Saturday.”

In March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) awarded Cottrell Contracting Corp. of Chesapeake, Va., the $12.7-million contract to undertake the initiative that Lido Key residents and business owners have sought for many years. They have talked of the fact that while their beach has seen numerous, interim renourishment efforts through the decades, the sand routinely has disappeared under the onslaught of storms.

At 6:36 a.m. on July 15, Cindy Shoffstall sent this photo of the Rockbridge to City of Sarasota leaders, showing the vessel positioned just south of the tip of Lido Key. ‘This is a day for rejoicing and so many residents of these islands and this city will be happy to see her in our waters,’ Shoffstall wrote in her email. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

On July 15, Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), told the News Leader during a telephone interview that he been down to the Lido shoreline on several occasions by mid-afternoon that day.

“I’ve been in conversation with [representatives of] the contractor,” he added, noting that the Cottrell personnel were “very, very pleasant with everything.”

“We are very anxious to get this thing started,” Shoffstall said of the project, which USACE representatives originally unveiled in September 2013.

Speaking for himself and the other LKRA members, he added, “We are ecstatic.”

Lido Key, to the north, is separated from Siesta Key by Big Sarasota Pass, as shown in this Jan. 28, 2019 image from about 11,000 feet up. Photo from Google Earth

Still, Shoffstall stressed, members of the association do not want to see Siesta Key harmed as a result of the undertaking. “We will be working,” he said, “to make sure that this is not a detrimental thing for Siesta Key.”

Shoffstall also emphasized, “We are not against Siesta Key. We want to make this work for everybody.”

He took issue with past reports, he said, that had characterized the differing views of residents on the two barrier islands as a matter of “us against them.”

Both the Siesta Key Association (SKA) and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) pursued legal challenges after the USACE announced that it would use sand from Big Pass and the pass’ ebb shoal to widen the Lido shoreline. The nonprofit organizations’ members and supporters have voiced worries over the past seven years that the USACE did not undertake sufficient research into the potential consequences of the project. They pointed, for example, to the fact that the federal agency’s proprietary modeling software was outdated, saying a modern, three-dimensional system would have offered more reliable results of the impacts Siesta Key could expect.

The USACE has remained steadfast in the face of the allegations, asserting no harm will come to the waterway or Siesta Key.

The SKA still has litigation pending against the City of Sarasota in the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, having lost its case in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court last year.

John R. Herin Jr. is outside counsel for the City of Sarasota. Image from the Fox Rothschild website

The Court of Appeal this spring gave both the city’s outside counsel, John R. Herin Jr. of the Miami firm Fox Rothschild and the attorney representing the Lido Key Residents Association — which intervened in the case — extra time to file their responses to the SKA’s initial brief. Herin and Kevin S. Hennessy of the St. Petersburg firm Lewis, Longman & Walker — who represents the LKRA — had filed a motion, citing work disruptions as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, on June 25, the News Leader learned, Hennessy filed a request for oral arguments in the case.

On July 6, the chief U.S. District Court judge for the Middle District of Florida, in Tampa, denied an SOSS2 motion that sought a Temporary Restraining Order to halt the dredging of Big Pass.

The judge — Steven D. Merryday — has yet to issue a ruling in the case that the nonprofit filed against the USACE in January 2019.

A long time coming

Under the terms of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for the Lido project, the Rockbridge crew can remove up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, with 710,000 cubic yards to be placed on Lido Beach.

Although senior Sarasota staff had expected the dredge to arrive last week, the vessel had to make its way down the East Coast, into a canal that feeds into Lake Okeechobee, into the Caloosahatchee River and finally into the Gulf of Mexico. The News Leader began tracking the Rockbridge via MarineTraffic.com when it was located at the Morehead City, N.C., Port on June 17.

When the News Leader asked David Ruderman, a spokesman for the USACE District Office in Jacksonville, whether any particular issues had held up the vessel, he responded in a July 15 email: “[N]othing in particular, that’s just how long it took [to reach Sarasota].”

Ruderman also pointed out of the Cottrell crew members, “They have a very wide window of opportunity” to perform the work on Lido.

This image in a PowerPoint presentation Cottrell Contracting provided the USACE on May 27 shows the Rockbridge dredge. Image courtesy FDEP

Although the sand placement will proceed until it has been completed, Ruderman explained earlier this year, the construction of two groins on South Lido will not take place until after sea turtle nesting season has ended, which is Oct. 31.

City Manager Tom Barwin provided an update on the project in his July 10 newsletter. “If you’ve been to South Lido Beach within the past few days,” he wrote, “you may have noticed four very large pipes staged on the beach. Those pipes will carry 710,000 cubic yards of … sand from the Gulf of Mexico and recycle it back to Lido Beach.”

As with previous initiatives, Barwin continued, the work will proceed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nonetheless, he noted, Lido Beach will remain open to the public.

“Please watch for and keep a safe distance from active construction zones, which will be clearly marked with signage and caution tape,” Barwin added.

The renourishment will start at the southern end of Lido and proceed northward, Barwin pointed out.

This is the last section of a graphic the City of Sarasota released in June, showing the tentative timeline for completion of the sand placement on Lido Beach. At that point, city staff expected the dredge to arrive around July 6. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

“The contractor expects to finish pumping sand on the beach in November,” he noted, “then begin construction of beach groins to absorb wave action and slow natural beach erosion. The project is expected to be completed with a much wider, virtually new beach by May 2021.”

It could be January, Ruderman told the News Leader a couple of months ago, before the groin work gets underway.

“We’ll be monitoring this renourishment closely,” Barwin continued in his newsletter, “and, as required with the approved permitting, will be ready to make adjustments if warranted.”

Finally, Barwin wrote, I” would be remiss if I did not thank all involved for many years with this project, especially City Engineer Alex DavisShaw and more recently our legal team. The project simply recycles … Lido Beach sand back to the beach from shoals where it has accreted in massive volumes over the years.”

Because of the natural downdrift of sand from north to south on the west coast of Florida, other proponents of the Lido initiative have emphasized — as Barwin did — that the contractor indeed will be removing sand from Big Pass that originally was on Lido Beach.

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