Big Pass sand borrow area offshore of Siesta Key eliminated from dredging plans

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

After reviewing the new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ solicitation package for the Lido Renourishment Project, Siesta Key Association leaders expressed their delight to SNL.

As SKA Director Robert Luckner pointed out in an email, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has eliminated Borrow Area — or Cut — B in Big Sarasota Pass, which was offshore of Siesta Key’s Sandy Hook neighborhood. During a Florida Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) proceeding conducted in December 2017, the SKA and a second nonprofit, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), provided expert testimony about the spawning of seatrout in Borrow Area B during spring and summer. As a result, the permit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) issued to the City of Sarasota and the USACE for the Lido project prohibited any removal of sand from that borrow area from April to September.

Additionally, Luckner noted, the USACE has decreased the amount of sand it plans to place on the critically eroded South Lido Key Beach from 950,000 cubic yards to 590,000 cubic yards, a 38% reduction. “It’s a big victory,” Luckner told SNL.

The information about the sand figure is included in the Line Items and Pricing Schedule that is part of the primary USACE solicitation document. Companies that bid on the project must provide their cost per cubic yard, the schedule shows.

Published on Dec. 17, the new solicitation continues to eliminate the eastern third of Borrow Area C, Luckner added in his email. That area, he noted, was where most of the seagrass destruction was anticipated. The decision to remove that portion of that borrow area was included in the original solicitation for the Lido project, which the USACE published in May. The federal agency cancelled that solicitation in early August after receiving bids it called “unreasonably high.”

“[T]his is everything SKA was asking for except for eliminating the western part of Cut C,” Luckner wrote of the new package.

To remove sand from the western part of Borrow Area C, Luckner continued, a cut 13 feet deep and 500 feet wide has been planned in the Big Pass ebb shoal.

The SKA has been in litigation with the City of Sarasota over the Lido Renourishment Project plans since March 2017, arguing that the city has failed to follow its own policies and regulations as well as several in effect for Sarasota County. After losing in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, SKA leaders agreed to appeal the decision to Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal. SKA President Catherine Luckner — Robert Luckner’s wife — told SNL that the nonprofit would file its brief with the appeals court on Feb. 6, 2020, a date to which the parties had agreed.

The second nonprofit opposed to the design of the Lido project, SOSS2, is waging a legal battle against the USACE in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, in Tampa. Leaders of that organization have said they understand the federal court likely will not render its decision before February, with final motions having been filed early this month.

SOSS2 has alleged that the USACE has violated a number of federal laws — including the Clean Water Act — in its plans for the renourishment of South Lido Beach.

When SNL  contacted SOSS2 leader Mark Smith for comments on the new Lido bid, Smith responded in a Dec. 19 email.

“At first glance at the revised dredging map it appears more like a navigational dredging project than ‘Hurricane Reduction,’” he wrote. (The official USACE name for the Lido undertaking is the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project.)

“Dredging through the shoal will reduce the velocity of the water entering and leaving through Big Pass,” Smith continued.

“The reduced velocity will result in the current channel and the new channel to silt in, eventually rendering both channels impassable over time,” he added.

“Big Pass has never been dredged nor has it ever needed to be dredged for boating access to and from Sarasota Bay,” Smith pointed out.

“This proposed channel dredging will now require periodic dredging, the same as New Pass.

“Which is exactly what the City of Sarasota is counting on.

Creating a problem in the guise of a solution,” Smith wrote.

“There is a real possibility that the dredge through Big Pass shoal will hinder, if not totally cut off, boating access through the pass. That the construction of these massive groins will eventually cause severe erosion to Ted Sperling Park. (The USACE plans two groins on South Lido to try to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments.) That the dredging of the new channel will result in the reduction of sand flowing southward to Siesta Key, resulting in the reduction of the width of the beaches and endangering the properties along the coast,” Smith pointed out.

“The computer model the Army Corps used to predict the movement of sand around and through Big Pass after the dredging was inadequate. There is no certainty as to what is going to happen after the dredging occurs.

“The Army Corps has asked us to trust them,” Smith noted. “Their track record is less than stellar.”

The USACE has remained steadfast in offering assurances that its modeling has shown no harm will come to Big Pass or Siesta Key as a result of the removal of sand from the waterway or the ebb shoal, or the construction of the groins.

In regard to the new Lido solicitation package, Brown of the USACE told SNL, “The Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers … is scheduled to make a formal award in early February 2020. Construction must [be completed] by May 1, 2021.”

The solicitation webpage says offers are due by 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 23.