County engineer plans another attempt to win County Commission approval of special assessments to help pay for long-term stabilization of North Casey Key Road

By Rachel Brown Hackney

SarasotaNewsLeader.com

As Sarasota County Public Works Department staff labored in early June to repair a section of North Casey Key Road shattered by Tropical Storm Cristobal, County Engineer Spencer Anderson was considering another attempt to try to win County Commission approval of a special property assessment to help pay for the long-term stabilization of that area and another on Casey Key.

One area would encompass the section of 712 N. Casey Key Road, where Cristobal fractured a step revetment dating to about 1990, causing its collapse as well as that of the southbound lane. In a second area of Casey Key, erosion has threatened one of the county’s potable water lines.

“The sea state was extremely rough over the [previous] weekend due to Cristobal,” Anderson stressed during a June 9 press conference.

During their June 7 assessment, Anderson said, the Public Works crew members found “a large void” under the road that was about 2 feet deep and 20 feet long. That was why staff closed the road to traffic from the 700 block to the 500 block.

The damaged step revetment — which was approximately 1,600 feet long — was made of cement and a mix of shell and sand, Anderson has explained to the County Commission.

“Over time, it’s been eroding away from environmental factors,” he said during the June 9 news conference.

Following emergency repairs, one lane of traffic reopened to the public about 3 p.m. on June 9. Anderson said it likely would be June 15 or 16 before the second lane would be ready for traffic.

During a June 11 Facebook Live interview, Anderson explained to county Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant that staff was using a machine called a spider excavator to place rubble riprap along the shoreline. The limestone rocks come from natural formations in the ground, he pointed out.

The next step, he continued, would be to fill in voids created by erosion. “Then we’ll build this lane back up” and resurface it with asphalt, he added.

In July 2019, he continued, staff had to repair another section of the road “with somewhat similar damage” to what appeared on June 7. That area is just a bit north of the new scene of concerns, he said.

The long-term approach

With the repairs underway, Anderson explained during the press conference, the design of a new rock revetment the County Commission authorized last year also is in process.

As part of a June 2019 budget workshop, Anderson first talked at length about staff’s proposal for two projects to deal with continuing problems along North Casey Key Road.

Along with authorizing the new revetment, the commissioners have approved a project in the 2100 block of the road to safeguard the potable county water line.

The total cost of those initiatives will be about $8 million, Anderson said.

Both in June 2019 and in February, Anderson broached the idea of reviving a special taxing district on part of Casey Key, which would help cover the county’s expenses.

A Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) was created in the late 1980s to pay for the step revetment on Casey Key Road that has continued to be compromised by erosion, Anderson told the commissioners. The district covered property on about half of the barrier island, he noted during the June 9 news conference.

However, after all the funding was secured for that earlier project, he told the commissioners, the MSTU assessment was reduced to zero in 1996 on the tax bills of those property owners. Since the MSTU never was dissolved, Anderson added, the opinion of the Office of the County Attorney is that it could be used to help finance the new projects.

When Anderson brought up the MSTU proposal in June 2019, Commissioners Michael Moran, Charles Hines and Christian Ziegler said they felt it would be unfair to approve a new tax for the owners of the approximately 300 affected parcels on Casey Key without giving those persons the opportunity to comment.

Anderson had estimated the assessment for each parcel would be about $1,200 a year.

In February, when Anderson appeared again before the board, he discussed the outreach that had taken place since last year. In fact, he said, staff was present at the January Casey Key Association meeting to make a presentation on the MSTU.

Yet, Lisa Napolitano, president of that association, told the commissioners on Feb. 4 that the position of all of her organization’s members was that the county needs to pay for repairs to Casey Key Road, because so many members of the public use that route, for tourism and for bicycling, especially.

That day, Commissioner Nancy Detert joined Moran, Hines and Commissioner Alan Maio in asserting that the county should take on the funding responsibility for that reason. Ziegler offered no comments.

Since then, the county — like all other local government bodies — has been faced with reducing expenses because of the recession brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

When the SNL asked Anderson on June 9 whether he planned once more to broach with the commission the idea of reviving the Casey Key MSTU, he replied, “Yes, that will be a consideration.”

He anticipated that later this year or early next year, “The board might take that up …”

The SNL made multiple, unsuccessful attempts to reach Commission Chair Michael Moran, to ask whether he planned to seek the scheduling of another discussion of the MSTU when the board meets in July. (No other meetings were scheduled in June after the board members met on June 3.)

Until the long-term repairs on North Casey Key can be completed — with or without MSTU funds — Anderson said the interim repairs should allow for safe travel.