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County property in the path of proposed dredging?

By Rachel Brown Hackney

This summer, Siesta Key Association (SKA) Vice President Catherine Luckner first raised questions about property owned by Sarasota County in Big Sarasota Pass that is known as Sand Dollar Island.

She and her husband, Robert, who is a member of the SKA’s Environmental Committee, spent some time researching the background of the property.

Now Catherine Luckner is seeking information from Sarasota County staff about whether the 598,454-square-foot parcel in the pass might be in an area (Cut B or Cut C) from which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposes to dredge sand for the long-term renourishment of South Lido Key Beach.

As she pointed out in an Oct. 11 email to county staff members, the 1954 title, deeding the property to the county, restricts its use to public recreation. She further noted that the island is zoned Open Use Conservation (OUC), and zoning guidelines for that district do not allow the mining of sand.

According to the county’s Zoning Code, OUC districts are “intended to preserve and protect native habitats, wilderness areas, marsh lands, watersheds, water recharge areas, open spaces, park lands (unless otherwise zoned [Government Use]), scenic areas, historical and archaeological resources and beaches.”

The deed for the property, dated January 1954, shows the state gave the property to the county. In the deed, the property is called a “spoil island in Big Sarasota Pass.” The deed makes it clear that the county “shall never sell or convey or lease the above described land or any part thereof to any private person, firm or corporation for the private use or purpose, it being the intention of this restriction that the said land shall be used solely for public purposes.” If the county were to violate the restrictions, the deed says, the land would revert to the state.

The property listed in the records of all county-owned land completed by staff earlier this year in an effort to identify surplus property the county could sell. The list references the parcel as “Submerged island,” with the additional note that it should be retained. It is among many parcels on the property list within the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department’s holdings.

The island is valued at $3,100 on that list.

Luckner also has asked county staff in her Oct. 11 email whether Environmental Policy 4.6.1 of the county’s Comprehensive Plan and/or the county’s Water Navigation Control Authority would apply in the event Sand Dollar Island is part of the proposed dredging area.

That Comprehensive Plan policy has been at the heart of a verified complaint the SKA filed against the City of Sarasota in 2017 to try to prevent the removal of sand from Big Pass, as the city is the joint recipient of a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Joint Coastal Permit for the Lido Key Renourishment Project.

The SKA has maintained that the city violated the county’s Comprehensive Plan because the city never obtained permission of the county for the planned dredging of the pass. The 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge who heard arguments in late July on the city’s motion to dismiss the court case ruled against the SKA on Oct. 12, but the SKA plans to file an amended complaint in the case, Luckner said. (See the related article in this issue.)

With a recent check with county staff to find out whether answers had been provided to Luckner about the island, Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant responded in an Oct. 15 email: “Planning and Development has received the questions from Ms. Luckner and is reviewing the information. No update has been provided yet.”

Grant was referring to the county department that oversees the Environmental Permitting Division and related issues.