SKA seeking more help with legal expenses

| May 1, 2017

By Rachel Brown Hackney

The vice president of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) told members at the April 6 meeting that the organization expects to need another $80,000 to $100,000 as it pursues two types of legal challenges in the effort to prevent the dredging of Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key Beach.

Before the organization’s meeting had ended, one Siesta property owner had offered to match a $1,000 contribution from any other attendee.

Earlier this year, Vice President Catherine Luckner reminded the approximately 80 people in the audience, the board members established a separate entity to which the public can make donations. The Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, she added, so any contribution to it is tax-deductible. People may donate to it through the SKA’s website, President Harold Ashby noted.

The SKA not only has filed a complaint against the City of Sarasota in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in an effort to prevent removal of about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, Luckner explained, but it also stands firm in opposing the decision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to issue a permit to the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the renourishment project.

A Florida administrative law judge’s ruling in late March will make it necessary for the SKA and two other petitioners — Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2) and the Florida Wildlife Federation — to prepare for a hearing in late August on the challenge to FDEP’s Dec. 22, 2016 Notice of Intent to issue the permit, Luckner said. The SKA board had sought an abeyance of that proceeding until after the Circuit Court matter was settled, she continued, because a favorable decision in court might make the administrative hearing unnecessary. “We wanted time to focus on [the court case] first,” she said.

However, the administrative law judge ruled against the SKA.

“It does seem like about a year has gone by in the last, oh, 45 days,” she told the audience, adding, “We’re getting a lot of pushback from the City of Sarasota.”

Yet, Luckner continued, “I don’t think the Lido residents really understood that they weren’t going to get a renourishment … project this year.”

That is because of a lack of federal funding thus far for the initiative, as well as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion — issued in late December — that prohibits the construction of the two planned groins on South Lido while sea turtle nesting season is underway. Turtles typically lay eggs on county beaches between May 1 and Oct. 31. Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ordered that work can take place on Lido Beach during the day and night only between Nov. 11 and April 30.

In regard to the funding: The USACE has requested that $11,780,000 for the project be included in the federal budget this year, Susan J. Jackson, a USACE spokeswoman at the agency’s Jacksonville District Office, told SNL. Jackson said it probably would be mid-May before the USACE knows whether it will receive the money.

The rest of the funding for the Lido project is expected to be in the form of a $3,610,000 FDEP grant and $3,610,000 in Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for city renourishment projects, the current city budget says.

“What I am concerned about is our funding,” Luckner added during the SKA meeting. “We’ve been using money that you all had given to us over a number of years, and we are going to ask people if they can do anything to help us.”

The Lido Key Residents Association, which was accepted as an intervenor in the FDEP administrative challenge, is the only organization involved in that case that has filed for discovery, she continued. That action will entail even more legal expenses for the SKA, she pointed out.

“Anything that you all can do” Luckner said, would be appreciated. “Anything. Please, please, we need you right now. I told you all that we would not ask until we did [need help].”

During the SKA’s membership drive this year, she noted, people donated amounts ranging from $10 to $1,000 for legal assistance. “But we’re going to have to ask for more. … None of it will be used for administrative expenses” or marketing of the SKA, she promised.

One possibility people might consider, she continued, is that some companies will match employees’ — and retired employees’ — charitable contributions. If anyone wanted to pursue that option, Luckner said, she would be happy to provide more details from the research she and her husband, Robert Luckner, have undertaken on that.

One audience member voiced confusion about the fundraising SOSS2 has been doing for legal expenses at the same time the SKA has been seeking support. “I think we all need to get some clarity in this community,” the man told Luckner.

Jeanne Ezcurra, an SOSS2 board member, sought and received Luckner’s permission to respond to the question. SOSS2 was formed in 2014, Ezcurra said, with the sole purpose of stopping the dredging of Big Pass. All donations the nonprofit receives go directly to that effort, she added.

“Our legal teams are working on common issues,” Ezcurra noted.

“We started a little late,” Luckner acknowledged, in terms of establishing the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund.

In response to a question about how much money the SKA needs, she said, “I would like for us to actually add $80,000 to $100,000.” The board already has spent about $20,000, she said. Not all of the extra money might be needed this year, she pointed out, adding that the SKA is being as economical as possible with its expenses.

Margaret Jean Cannon suggested the SKA create a feature on its website where people can see the accumulation of contributions to the Environmental Defense Fund. Luckner told her that was “a very good idea.”

Robert Luckner has figured out that if every SKA member gave $71, Catherine Luckner continued, that would cover the organization’s legal expenses. Still, she was quick to add, “We don’t want to put a mandate on people. We just appreciate anything you can do.”

As Luckner was concluding her remarks, Michael Holderness told her, “I’ll match another $1,000 before we leave [this meeting].”He won a round of applause.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Luckner responded.

A message from SKA: We ask that you please consider helping to protect Siesta Key’s environment by contributing to Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund, or SKEDF for short. All contributions are tax-deductible and will be gratefully acknowledged. Please use our online donation page at SKEDF.org to donate using a credit card, or to register a pending offline donation by check. Please make checks payable to SKEDF and send to:
SKEDF, PO BOX 35200, SARASOTA, FL 34242

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