A doozy of a start to DOAH hearing regarding Sarasota Big Pass

| January 31, 2018

By Rachel Brown Hackney

   Another topic anticipated for SKA discussion was the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding, which began on Dec. 12 in Sarasota and ended up concluding a day early — on Dec. 18 — in Tallahassee.

   The proceeding allowed the SKA and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) to present expert witness testimony that challenged the plan of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to issue a permit to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge 1.7 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to renourish a 1.6-mile stretch of critically eroded South Lido Key Beach.

   The first day of the hearing began with more than a little confusion, as this reporter learned firsthand.

   The DOAH case file included a notice about the location of the proceeding, which was to begin at 9 a.m. However, many attendees focused on one phrase in that notice, “Sarasota County Justice Center,” figuring that meant the location would be the Judge Lynn Silvertooth Judicial Center.

   When this reporter could not locate Courtroom 2 on the sixth floor of that Ringling Boulevard structure in downtown Sarasota, this reporter was fortunate indeed to find a bailiff who readily showed her the correct location, across the street.

   The correct courtroom, as it turned out, was in the building where the Sheriff’s Office’s administrative staff used to work and where the State Attorney’s Office continues to operate.

   Fortunately, too, while Judge Bram D.E. Carter entered the courtroom early on the morning of Dec. 12, he did wait until about 9 to start the hearing. That at least enabled other confused parties to find seats in the nick of time.

   As for concluding the hearing in Tallahassee: On Dec. 15, Canter conferred with the parties and counsel and then made the decision to finish up testimony at the DOAH headquarters in Tallahassee. Along with the DOAH, FDEP’s offices and, in fact, the offices of Hopping Green & Sams, the SKA’s law firm, are in Tallahassee. The USACE counsel represented that federal agency’s Jacksonville District Office, while the City of Sarasota’s outside counsel was from the GrayRobinson firm’s offices in Fort Lauderdale. The Lido Key Residents Association had hired the Bradenton firm Lewis, Longman & Walker to represent it.

   Interested persons who did not want to make the trip to Tallahassee were afforded the opportunity to participate in the rest of the hearing by video conference at the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims on Parkland Drive in Bradenton, a bit north of University Parkway. Later, the DOAH staff did provide a call-in telephone number, too, as space in the Parkland Drive facility was reported to be quite limited.

And speaking of the hearing …

   Those who attended the DOAH hearing found Judge Canter not only to be quite engaged in the testimony but also to have a good sense of humor.

   On Dec. 18, for example, Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines — a joint Duke University/University of Western Carolina initiative — was on the stand. As Martha Collins, the attorney for Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) was attempting to enter an exhibit into the record at one point, opposing counsel apparently had some difficulty finding the document to which she was alluding. That led to Canter dropping the second “S” in SOSS2 as he worked with Collins to clarify the number of the exhibit.

   “If I refer to your client as SOS, which has a certain ring to it, would that be OK?” Canter asked Collins.

   She readily agreed that that would be fine.

Thus, he was dubbing the exhibit SOS 83, Canter told opposing counsel.

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