Big Pass challenge legal expenses exceed $1.1 million

| May 29, 2018

By Rachel Brown Hackney

   The City of Sarasota had paid a grand total of $685,953.16 as of May 1 in its fight to dredge Big Pass to renourish part of Lido Key Beach.

   As of early April, the Siesta Key Association(SKA) had spent about $223,000 in its efforts to preserve the pass in its virgin state, Treasurer Robert Miller reported to members at the April 5 meeting of the nonprofit.

   Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2(SOSS2), told the stated that that organization’s expenses thus far added up to $209,185.21.

   Combining the three figures, the total outlay for the legal expenses has been $1,118,138.37 by Siesta Sand’s calculations.

   Since early April, SOSS2, the SKA, the city and the Lido Key Residents Association had been awaiting a ruling from the judge who presided over a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding held mostly in Sarasota in December 2017. The judge issued his order, recommending that the dredging go forward but also calling for a permit modification regarding the months the work can be done. (See the related story in this issue.)

   The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) also participated in the December 2017 hearing.

   As requested by Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter, the parties in early April filed recommendations for his order in the case.

   In response to a formal request, City Attorney Robert Fournier provided a detailed breakdown on May 2 regarding the payments the city has made. He was preparing a report for the City Commission, he said, so he shared the same information.

   “As of May 1, 2018, the total expenses associated with these proceedings are [as follows],” Fournier wrote the commission:

  • $376,708.77 to Gray Robinson, the Fort Lauderdale-based legal counsel retained by the City of Sarasota.
  • $203,829.20 to Lewis, Longman & Walker of Bradenton, the legal counsel retained by the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA).

  That added up to $580,537.97 in total attorney fees and costs, Fournier noted.

   In addition, $29,316.64 was paid to Ocean Sciences Inc. (Dr. Mark Fonseca) for expert testimony, Fournier added.

   A total of $609,854.61 has been paid from the City Attorney’s litigation budget, he wrote. “The majority of these expenses were incurred in [the] current [fiscal year] FY 2017-18.”

   The amounts the city has paid since the hearing in December 2017 for review of the hearing transcripts and preparation of the “Respondents Proposed Recommended Order” are as follows, he continued:

  • $46,685.59 to Gray Robinson and $62,411.70 to Lewis, Longman & Walker.

   “The City and the LKRA submitted a Joint Recommended Order, with LKRA counsel assuming a lead role in its preparation,” he noted, adding that the sums for that work “are included in the total amount(s) provided above and are not additional charges.”

   In addition to the $609,854.61 from the City Attorney’s litigation budget, the sum of $76,098.55 has been paid out of the project account, he wrote, referring to the beach renourishment money the city receives out of Sarasota County’s Tourist Development Tax revenue for such projects. “This includes $65,298.55 to Thomas Campbell [a professional engineer] for consulting and $10,800.00 to Angel Eyes for preparation of aerial photographic exhibits,” Fournier added.

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