Sandstorms Swirl at SKA Meeting

| January 1, 2014

By Diana Colson

It started off calmly enough.

Minutes Were Approved, and Community Reports given.

Sheriff Office/Siesta Key:  Sgt. Osborne said that November had been very busy. They handled parking problems for the Crystal Classic and the Turkey Trot, as well as dealing with college kids who had come to Siesta Key to party.  There had been three physical arrests. Peter van Roekens added that the Siesta Key Village Christmas Parade had been quite successful.

Inlet Management:  van Roekens reported that the 5 ½ foot course had remained fairly constant.

Adopt a Road: Michael Shay said that 24 people volunteered for the Saturday, November 23rd pick up, and 32 bags of garbage and recyclables were collected. Shay thanked all the volunteers who had worked under his guidance and helped him earn the KSCB VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR award.

Membership:  Deet Jonker reported that it had been a big week for Membership. People were signing up on the web site, and SKA was saving on postage and mail-outs.

There was no Old Business.

Now comes the exciting part!

New Business:  President Catherine Luckner presented Sarasota City Engineer, Alexandrea DavisShaw, and two men from the Army Corps of Engineers: Milan Mora, project manager, and Jason Engle, engineer.  Although this is a Federal Project under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Sarasota is involved because the majority of the 8,280 foot area to be renourished lies within its limits.

In a bold attempt to control Mother Nature, the plan calls for dredging 1.1 million cubic yards of sand from a sandbar in Big Sarasota Pass, and to do it as many as 10 times over 50 years. That sand would then be placed on the eroded beaches of Lido Key, where it would be anchored by three rock groins.

Many Siesta Key residents feel that the existing sandbar, or shoal, provides Siesta with a source of sand and protects the key from waves. They feel that harvesting sand from that location is tantamount to “stealing” it from Siesta’s treasured beaches.

Voices were raised and passions were high. The mood was combative.

Mora reiterated the position held by the U.S. Corps of Engineers that the 1.1 million cubic yards of sand proposed to be taken from the shoal represent only a small percentage of the sand in the pass. Furthermore, computer models show that wave action would be only negligibly accelerated, perhaps as little as 1.5 %

DavisShaw tried to allay concerns, as did Engle, who said that the sandbar has accreted significantly over the past decade.  Engle went on to say: “All the modeling indicates we can take some sand out of the shoal. What’s been added is far greater than what we’re intending to remove.”

Many people in the audience were simply not buying this line of reasoning.  After years of erosion, the fabled beaches of Siesta Key are currently holding fast. Residents expressed profound concerns that tampering with Big Pass could damage Siesta Beach, a major tourist draw in Southwest Florida.

Mora reiterated that Lido Key is a man-made island and the whole system is artificial. Sand on Lido simply drifts south before gathering in Big Pass. Returning this sand to Lido is merely recycling that sand. This did not sit well with the audience. People felt more searches for sand needed to be conducted, and another site found.

A 2002 feasibility study identified four potential sand sources for Lido. Two of these sources have not proved practical: 1.) bringing sand from Egmont Key near Tampa; 2.) finding sand offshore.  According to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the only sites that can be mined are New Pass and Big Pass. New Pass has already been dredged several times. It will continue to be periodically dredged as part of the 50-year beach renourishment plan. The estimated cost of the first dredging is 22.7 million dollars

DavisShaw reminded the audience that the purpose of this Federal Project is to preserve, protect and rebuild Lido, which is considered to be critically eroded.

One resident said he was “baffled that a project of this size ever got this far without peer review or public hearing.”

DavisShaw responded that the city has contracted two engineering companies to review the corps’ approaches and methodology. They are Coastal Planning and Engineering of Tampa and Coastal Technology of Sarasota.

At the end of two hours, President Catherine Luckner closed the meeting with these calming words: “This is a preliminary. It has to be done procedurally. It is not a done deal, there are going to be checks and balances. Our organization is dedicated to preservation of the community.  Nothing will occur that will be a big surprise. We are asking for public input process. This is just a beginning. The Army Corps has been asked to do a difficult job. More information is coming.”

With that, the meeting was adjourned.

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