With Manasota Key residents pleading for more assistance to deal with erosion, County Commission asks staff to undertake more outreach efforts

Commissioner Nancy Detert also talks of the need for the board to seek state funding to help with a beach renourishment project

A map shows Area 3, the southern portion of Manasota Key, where erosion has been the worst. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Sarasota County Commission this week voted unanimously to ask County Administrator Tom Harmer to direct staff to expand outreach to homeowners on southern Manasota Key, with an eye toward seeking state funding for a beach renourishment project in that area.

Based on an estimate provided by a consultant working with Charlotte County, the cost of such a project would be approximately $19 million, Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained to the board during its regular meeting on April 3 in Venice.

Five Manasota Key residents appeared before the board during that session to plead for assistance to protect their homes and other property, in spite of mixed results from a survey county staff sent to island property owners on Nov. 30, 2016.

Jackie Ruthman, vice president of the Manasota Key Association, told the board, “A number of [residents] north of Blind Pass Beach now have fortified their homes with large sandbags that are linked together in 50-foot sections,” having worked with county staff on those measures. As the 2017 hurricane season approaches, she continued, she is seeking the board’s help to ensure an expedition of the permitting process if further erosion threatens property.

Matt Osterhoudt. File photo

Osterhoudt explained that, in addition to the survey, staff conducted two workshops for the property owners last year, while a Manasota Key resident hosted a third one. Even extending the deadline for returning the surveys to the county did little to spur additional participation, he pointed out.

Commissioner Nancy Detert — a former member of the Florida House and Senate — voiced frustration that the board in the past had not asked for a Manasota Key beach renourishment project to be considered for state funding. Osterhoudt responded that the commissioners previously had not directed staff to take such action. The survey distributed last fall, he noted, was the fourth time since 2002 that staff has worked with property owners on the island to determine support for a renourishment project. Yet, only 41% of the property owners on the Gulf of Mexico on the southern end — where storm damage has been the worst —participated in the 2016 survey.

Altogether, 155 parcels are in that area, the survey showed, and 79 of them are on the gulf. As designated by staff for the outreach effort, that part of the island encompassed addresses from 7050 to 6010 Manasota Key Road, which extend to the Charlotte County line.

Area 1 covered the addresses from 4100 Harbor Drive South to 8170 Manasota Key Road, while Area 2 encompassed property from 8150 to 7070 Manasota Key Road.

A staff memo that provided the survey results said, “The most likely project for Manasota Key given [the] area of most acute recent erosion and proximity to the Charlotte County [renourishment effort] already underway would be to extend the Charlotte County project north to a point about [half a mile] north of Blind Pass Park …” That would cover a total of 2.25 miles from the Charlotte County line, the memo noted.

“It’s too late this year to ask for any state money,” Detert said; [yet] it looks like they’re at a critical state there at Manasota Beach …” Given Osterhoudt’s rough estimate of the expense for a renourishment project on the southern portion of the island, Detert added, “I would certainly support being on the state list as soon as possible.”

A memo shows the results of the survey in regard to support for a public renourishment project on Manasota Key. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Generally, she continued, the state sets aside $30 million to $40 million each year for renourishment initiatives all over Florida.

Commissioner Charles Hines also indicated support for county action on behalf of the property owners on the southern part of Manasota Key. “The pictures of these homes are tough,” he added, referring to photos staff and the public speakers had shown the board. “When it gets more painful for you or your neighbors, and you see homes ready to go into the water,” Hines continued, more people probably will be willing to support a beach renourishment project.

“The survey doesn’t mean much to me,” Detert said. “If you went door-to-door,” she told Osterhoudt, “you’d get [a] 100% [response level]. … We need to step in and help however we can.”

Homeowners’ concerns

In June 2016, Tropical Storm Colin lashed Manasota Key with wind and rain, and it produced higher seas than usual, Rachel A. Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, explained in the March 29 memo to the board.

Afterward, she continued, seven members of the public addressed the commission, pleading for assistance because of the resulting erosion and structural damage.

In response to reports about the storm’s impacts, then-Commissioner Christine Robinson won unanimous support from her colleagues to ask staff to research how best to provide long-term assistance to South County residents living on the shoreline.

In the meantime, county staff already was planning to meet with Manasota Key property owners to help them with emergency permitting procedures to deal with the damage, Osterhoudt explained to the board on June 21, 2016.

The survey produced these responses to a question about perception of erosion on Manasota Key. Area 1 is the northernmost portion of the island. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Robinson also suggested that day that Harmer work with staff to decide whether a survey would be an appropriate step in determining whether a sufficient number of residents would support paying assessments to help cover the cost of beach renourishment efforts.

During his comments to the commissioners on April 3, Charles Miller of Manasota Key pointed out that a majority of the property owners on the southern part of the island who participated in the county survey agreed that they had experienced erosion.

For the entirety of the island within Sarasota County, he continued, 71 of the 146 respondents to the survey supported a public beach renourishment project.

Stephanie Weisband. News Leader photo

Ruthman of the Manasota Key Association told the commissioners she felt more outreach to the property owners on the southern part of the island would lead to staff’s getting a better understanding of the degree of support.

Ruthman also was among several speakers who advocated for inclusion of at least one other property — located at 7160 Manasota Key Road — in the southern area, for staff purposes.

Additionally, she offered the association’s assistance to staff.

Stephanie Weisband of Manasota Key Road said she felt many property owners had been reluctant to support a renourishment project without hearing more details about how it would be handled. She encouraged the commission to pursue a coastal engineering assessment and feasibility study, including financing options for renourishing all the eroding areas of the island’s shoreline.

“The ‘do nothing’ alternative could eventually be the end of Manasota Key, Weisband added. “We are letting one of the most beautiful areas in Florida — and probably the country — fall into disrepair and decline through a failure to act.”