By Rachel Brown Hackney
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has notified the City of Sarasota that its staff deemed the Lido Renourishment Project application to be complete as of Sept. 28.
The state department’s deadline for issuing its notice of intended action is Dec. 27, according to information FDEP Project Manager Gregory Garis provided Siesta Key Association (SKA) Second Vice President Catherine Luckner. By law, FDEP has 90 days from Sept. 28 to announce whether it plans to issue or deny the permit application for the renourishment of about 1.6 miles of South Lido Key Beach. The project also includes the construction of two groins on South Lido to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments.
Sarasota County spokesman Jason Bartolone told SNL that, according to the county’s FDEP contact, that whatever intent FDEP issues must be published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Then a 14-day public comment period commences. During that time, if a petition to challenge the permit intent is received, the petition goes to FDEP legal counsel for review. “If legal counsel determines there are grounds and standing,” Bartolone added, “the case goes to litigation. If no such petition is received (or if any petitions are found not to be valid) then a Final Order is issued (permit is issued or denied). So depending on the submittal of petitions, the process can take at a minimum 14 days up to an undetermined amount of time after the intent is advertised.”
A day before FDEP made its decision about the Lido application, the City of Sarasota won unanimous approval from the Manatee County Commission to mitigate damage or destruction of seagrass during the Lido project by planting seagrass in Manatee County’s Perico Preserve. The cost of that undertaking would be slightly less than $1 million, based on documentation submitted to FDEP and Manatee County figures.
The City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) filed their application for the permit in March 2015. Siesta Key-based organizations have argued against the plan to dredge about 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to place on Lido, though they have often vowed support for the renourishment of the barrier island itself.
Perico Preserve plan
On Sept. 27, Charlie Hunsicker, director of Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department, reminded the Manatee County Commission that when Manatee County constructed the Perico Preserve, “We weren’t interested in enabling or providing for mitigation for any private development.” The preserve was designed for public projects, only, he added.
A Manatee County staff memo for the commission’s meeting says, “To recover approximately $4.3 million associated with the creation of seagrass habitat from uplands at Perico Preserve, the intent is to allow other government agencies to purchase the right to perform offsite seagrass mitigation at the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin for seagrass impacts associated with their projects elsewhere.”
The memo notes that for the right to perform that mitigation, “the value of the acreage, as determined by Manatee County, shall be paid to the County prior to authorization of use. Manatee County will retain ownership of the property and become the long-term management entity upon release of monitoring and maintenance requirements imposed by regulatory agencies on the agency that will be achieving [its] mitigation needs at the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin.”
The cost per acre is $351,512.45, according to a table provided with the memo. In the Aug. 1 letter to FDEP, CB&I Environmental & Infrastructure in Boca Raton — the USACE’s consultant assisting with the project — wrote that the city and the USACE proposed to plant a species of seagrass “within 2.8 acres” of the Perico Preserve Seagrass Basin. Therefore, by the SNL’s calculations, the cost to the city and the USACE will be $984,234.86.
The city’s Capital Improvement Program for 2017-2021 shows federal funding covering about 62 percent of the total cost of the $19-million renourishment project — $11,780,000 — with the rest of the funding split evenly between a state grant and Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenue set aside for city renourishment efforts.
USACE spokeswoman Susan Jackson stated that the project remains unfunded at the federal level. “We put in a funding request and will learn in February/March 2017 if we made the President’s Budget list for Fiscal Year 2018,” she wrote.
As of the Siesta Sand deadline for this issue, county staff still was awaiting a response from the USACE on its letter seeking an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project. The County Commission voted unanimously on Aug. 23 to request the EIS on the basis of a letter it had received from the Siesta Key Association. During the Oct. 6 SKA meeting, Second Vice President Catherine Luckner called that action “a big success.”
She also pointed out that the county paid almost $50,000 for a peer review of the Lido project — an undertaking urged by the SKA and other groups. The county also approved $1 million in county funds in 2014 so the city could use extra sand in what the city termed an “emergency” project under Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines to stabilize the South Lido Beach in early 2015, Luckner said. That undertaking was a response to damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012.
“The SKA has not been an obstacle to helping Lido in the ways that we can,” Luckner added.
Among the reasons the SKA, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 and other groups have pressed for an EIS, she continued, is that that more intensive review of the proposed project would necessitate addressing options for sand other than Big Pass. It also could lead to the realization that less sand is needed than the approximately 1.2 million cubic yards that the USACE has proposed to dredge from Big Pass, she noted.