With expectation project bids will be advertised this summer, Sarasota County Commission has to decide on joining Charlotte County in Manasota Key Beach renourishment project

Because of extensive ‘hardbottom’ near Sarasota County shoreline, consultant recommends second, separate project involving trucked-in sand

A graphic shows the sand borrow areas and other details for the proposed joint Manasota Key Beach renourishment project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Because of state and federal regulations that protect “hardbottom,” the consultant who working on a beach joint renourishment project for Sarasota and Charlotte counties has recommended a less extensive Sarasota County initiative on part of Manasota Key.

A 2016 Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) document explains that hardbottom provides “habitat critical for the recruitment/settlement, growth, and reproduction of numerous organisms. In this capacity, hardbottom habitat serves as a nursery, spawning, and foraging area for ecologically and economically valuable species.”

“It’s too great of a resource,” Michael T. Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants of Naples, said of hardbottom during a presentation to the commissioners of both counties. State and federal environmental agencies will not allow it to be covered with sand, he added.

Poff recommended that sand be trucked in for a project for the northern part of the Sarasota County project area on Manasota Key Beach. For the southern segment, Poff has worked on plans for Sarasota County to collaborate with Charlotte County on use of offshore sand to renourish about 4 miles of Manasota Key Beach.

The expense for Sarasota County with the joint initiative, Poff estimates, would be from approximately $4.9 million to about $5.2 million, depending on how much sand is used. “The number is what you are comfortable being able to afford,” he told the Sarasota and Charlotte county commissioners.

The width of renourished beach Sarasota County settled on for a project on the northern portion of its part of Manasota Key would determine the cost in that case, Poff continued. A beach with a 20-foot-wide berm would entail an expense of about $5.8 million, he said; for a 30-foot-wide berm, $11.1 million; and for a 50-foot-wide berm, $14 million.

A graphic provides details about estimates for options for a Sarasota County project north of the joint renourishment project area involving Charlotte County. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A big part of the expense would be the necessity of mitigating damage to the hardbottom close to shore by creating new habitat, he pointed out.

At a minimum, Poff also emphasized, for a renourishment project involving trucked-in sand, it would take two years from the start of the permitting process until new material actually could be placed on the beach.

FDEP representatives have advised him verbally, Poff said, that if Sarasota County decided to pursue the northern segment project, the county should apply for what is called a “major modification” of the permit for its joint undertaking with Charlotte County. That would make Sarasota County eligible for the state to pick up 36% of the expense of that work, which is the state share he has been advised to expect for the joint project, Poff added. Still, he acknowledged, “We’ll have to put that to the test.”

According to charts Poff showed the commissioners, the artificial reef expense with the 50-foot-wide berm project would be about $5.5 million, while the cost of trucking in sand would be approximately $5.7 million. Those figures compare to about $2.4 million to truck in sand for the 20-foot-wide berm design and approximately $2.3 million for the mitigation.

The Sarasota County Commission is scheduled next week to discuss issues necessary to its potential collaboration with Charlotte County on the renourishment project the Charlotte County board already has agreed to pursue, Poff added. Among those details, he noted, would be work on obtaining easements from Manasota Key property owners.

The Sarasota County Commission has regular meetings scheduled for March 12 and March 13 in Sarasota, but the agendas were not available prior to The Sarasota News Leader’s publication deadline this week.

A graphic provides information about the existing conditions on part of Manasota Key Beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County

When Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles Hines asked Poff whether Sarasota County staff members had everything they needed “to allow us to make a decision” next week, Poff replied that he had talked with members of the staff. “By tomorrow, they’ll have [the details] in writing from us,” Poff added.

Hines also pointed out that, a couple of years ago, Sarasota County staff held a number of workshops with residents on the Sarasota side of Manasota Key. Property owners had complained about worsening erosion and wanted to see the beach renourished. Because property changes ownership, Hines continued, he recommended that any new residents of Manasota Key check with county staff about how to access video taken of those workshops.

In fact, he said, even people who attended the sessions might want to watch the footage. “Bring everybody back up to speed,” Hines suggested.

He and his colleagues, he continued, have reached the point when they must decide, “Is Sarasota County in or is it out?” in regard to the Charlotte project, especially. The big question, of course, he said, is how the commission would pay for the renourishment initiatives on Manasota Key. A significant factor would be property owners’ share of the expense, he indicated.

During past Sarasota County Commission discussions of the potential renourishment of Manasota Key Beach, board members have made it clear that property owners would have to share the expense, just as South Siesta Key property owners have been assessed for two renourishments of their shoreline.

Setting the stage

Michael Poff addresses the board members on Feb. 28 in Venice. News Leader image

In opening his presentation, Poff provided background on the work his firm has pursued on behalf of both counties. Coastal Engineering Consultants submitted a joint beach renourishment application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in December 2017 for the counties, he reminded the boards. That application was deemed complete in September 2018, Poff said. The permit is expected to be issued on March 15, he noted.

That joint project would cover about the 4 miles of beach between R-175 and R-15.4, he continued, referring to a monument system used for designating specific locations on shorelines. The area stretches from Blind Pass Beach Park south to Stump Pass Beach State Park, including Englewood Beach Park. The design calls for a 50-foot-wide beach, with 300,000 cubic yards of sand to be added to the Sarasota County side of the barrier island and 580,000 cubic yards on the Charlotte County side.

The project length on Sarasota County’s side, he noted, is about 8,600 feet.

Charlotte County will be working on its own to renourish its southern beaches, Poff added.

The goal is to start the project on Nov. 1, immediately following the end of sea turtle nesting season.

“There’s plenty of sand available,” he said, and it is close to the shoreline. In fact, Poff pointed out, a type of equipment called a “hopper dredge” probably would be able excavate the sand, which then would be pumped onto the beach.

Referring to the five borrow areas, he added, “These are actually sand ridges.” Essentially, the equipment will chop off the tops the ridges, he explained.

About one-third of the new sand will move underwater after completion of the project, he pointed out, re-establishing the foundation of the beach. “It’s like an iceberg. Approximately seven-tenths of the beach is underwater.”

With the renourishment, he said, “We’re going to overload the beach. … [The sand] will slowly adjust and erode over time.”

In Charlotte County’s case, Poff explained, about 4.6 acres of hardbottom “will be covered by beach fill … which is why we have to do mitigation.”

No hardbottom is involved in the Sarasota County portion of the joint project, he pointed out.

This chart provides cost estimates for the ‘base’ joint renourishment project. ‘MCY’ refers to million cubic yards. Image courtesy Sarasota County
This chart provides estimates for the joint project expenses if more sand is used. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The total cost of the joint undertaking is expected to range between  $34,991,000 and $37.6 million, according to charts Poff showed the commissioners. The state would be able to pay about 36% of the cost, he noted. However, the money for beach renourishment projects has to be authorized each year by the Florida Legislature, and then the funds are awarded on the basis of project rank statewide.

Because the Manasota Key initiative is a regional one, Poff explained, it has been ranked third. If the Legislature appropriates at least $25 million for beach renourishment, Poff continued, then the Sarasota-Charlotte project would win state funding. Indications are that the Legislature will approve $50 million this year, he said. (The session began on March 5.)

“I was thrilled to hear that this project is ranked third,” Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert said.

As she is a former state House member and former state senator, Detert indicated concurrence with Poff’s belief that the project has a good chance of winning the state funding assistance.

Poff told the boards he would like to see the joint project advertised for bids this summer. If Sarasota County does proceed with the southern portion of its segment, Poff continued, then the contractor would determine which part of the Manasota Key shoreline to address first. “We’re not going to dictate that to the contractor.”

The only firm direction to the company, he said, would be the necessity of completing the renourishment by May 1, 2020, when turtle nesting season will begin again.

The northern Sarasota County segment

This graphic provides details about the loss of sand on part of Sarasota County’s side of Manasota Key Beach. The bottom image represents erosion data for a cross section of the beach. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Then Poff turned to the northern part of the proposed renourishment area on Sarasota County’s portion of Manasota Key Beach

As mapping of the shoreline proceeded north, he continued, it found from 12 to 20 acres of nearshore hardbottom. “Literally, you can walk out and stub your toe on the rocks.”

Broward County is facing a similar situation with a beach renourishment project it is working on, Poff noted. It has been working with a company called Coastal-Eco Group of Deerfield Beach, whose president and principal scientist, Cheryl L. Miller, helped write legislation regarding the protection of hardbottom, he added. “She’s been guiding us.”

As a result, he continued, he proposed Sarasota County truck in sand for the renourishment on the northern section of its part of Manasota Key.

“It’s coarser sand,” he did acknowledge, than the offshore sediment would be.