By Rachel Brown Hackney
At the end of almost three-and-a-half hours of discussion and public comments regarding the proposed renourishment of 1.6 miles of south Lido Key with sand from Big Sarasota Pass, Sarasota County Commission Chair Al Maio summed up board direction on March 23.
Speaking to Laird Wreford, the county’s manager of coastal resources initiatives, Maio said, “You all just need to set up a series of meetings quickly … Get in a room and ask the questions, and be absolutely polite, but ferociously blunt.”
A presentation by Charles Mopps, senior project manager for Atkins, was the focus of the commission’s afternoon session on March 23. As he discussed the results of a peer review of the Lido Renourishment Project as proposed by the city and the USACE. Mopps alluded a number of times to a lack of information about whether the USACE had undertaken certain steps in preparing the proposal.
City of Sarasota Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw told the board during the public comments portion of the meeting after the presentation that she would be happy to facilitate the discussions. The $19-million project is a joint effort of the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). “I would really like to make sure those questions get answered,” she said.
Mopps told the board, “We did reach out” to get answers, though all the questions and comments the Atkins team posed about studies or reports it could not find originally went through county staff. “At some point, there might have been a communication breakdown,” he added. Nonetheless, “If other things do exist [the lead member of the Atkins team] didn’t have an opportunity to review them and comment.”
Vice Chair Paul Caragiulo made it plain during an exchange of questions and answers with DavisShaw that no one objected to the plans for Lido until after Big Pass was deemed the sand source.
DavisShaw explained that the USACE evaluated numerous potential sand sources. Based on the requirements for the project, she continued — including sand compatibility — those sources other than Big Pass and New Pass “are no longer viable with sufficient sand …"
DavisShaw said she would have to double-check with the USACE, but she believed the last time the federal agency evaluated sand sources for the project was about two years ago, and Big Pass was the only viable source that was also financially feasible.
Mopps, like commissioners and several members of the public, made it clear, as Mopps put it, that “No one is expressing that beach nourishment is not needed on Lido Key.”
Getting answers to questions the Atkins team posed — and that Sarasota County stakeholders have asked — would be the most prudent and cost-effective follow-up at this point,” Wreford told the commissioners.
County Administrator Tom Harmer promised to work with staff on the meetings to delve into the information gaps and report back to the County Commission on a regular basis.
DavisShaw also explained that the city and the USACE are seeking a state permit for the dredging of Big Pass, with monitoring requirements. The USACE would not be able to use Big Pass as a sand source for the next dredging in the 50-year proposed life of the project unless the sand in the shoal was replenished naturally as expected within the predicted time period. The documents the USACE provided to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) say the plan is to remove 775,000 cubic yards of sand from the pass in the first nourishment. DavisShaw also explained that less sand would be dredged in subsequent renourishments of Lido because two planned groins on south Lido would keep more of the sand in place.
She added that she anticipated the second project would occur seven to 10 years after the first one, and if Big Pass could not be used as the sand source then, the city and the USACE would utilize New Pass.
“Construction is not funded yet,” she noted. However, USACE Project Manager Milan Mora has told her that, as he sees it, “acquiring a permit accelerates the funding likelihood.”
Earlier this month, USACE spokeswoman Amanda Parker told The Sarasota News Leader that President Barack Obama’s 2017 fiscal year budget does not include funding for the project. However, Parker noted, Congress could take a different stance.
The USACE has confirmed the latter information to The Sarasota News Leader. Further, in reply to a News Leader question this week, USACE spokeswoman Lt. Col. Susan J. Jackson (U.S. Army Reserve) wrote in a March 22 email, “We're still coordinating on [the response to FDEP’s second request for additional information about the project] and it'll likely take at least another month or two before we have a response.”
Commissioner Mason also took the opportunity on March 23 to seek clarification from DavisShaw about who would issue the permits for the project. DavisShaw told her that it would be FDEP.
“Not Sarasota County Government?” Mason asked. “Correct,” DavisShaw replied.
When Commissioner Christine Robinson asked what would happen if the groins proved to stabilize the beach but led to erosion in the county-owned Ted Sperling Park on south Lido, DavisShaw pointed out that the USACE has decided to use a design that would allow adjustments of the groins if problems arise.
The number of people from Lido Key who made public comments during the meeting outnumbered those from Siesta by a margin of 11 to five, according to a Sarasota News Leader count. From Siesta, Robert Luckner implored the board to call for an Environmental Impact Statement to be prepared about the project, instead of the Environmental Assessment [EA] the USACE undertook. The latter type of work, he said, “normally [is] used for straightforward projects using generally accepted designs,” he pointed out. “The EA is not a good fit for what we are trying to do. The project’s just too big.”