By Rachel Brown Hackney
Sarasota County never completed a beach and inlet management strategy — including an assessment of the nature and extent of coastal erosion and monitoring of the effectiveness of beach restoration initiatives — in spite of the call for such an undertaking to be completed by 2015, a member of the public has pointed out to the County Commission. Furthermore, the updated version of the Comprehensive Plan — which has been crafted over the past 18 months — no longer calls for such a strategy, Peter van Roekens, chair of Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), told the board on July 6 as it was conducting its latest public hearing on the revision of the document.
As a result of the inaction, he continued, no county environmental analysis has been undertaken of the $19-million City of Sarasota/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish South Lido Key, van Roekens said. Additionally, instead of 12 measurable objectives in the existing Environment section of the Comprehensive Plan, van Roekens explained, the new version has “six amorphous non-measurable statements, which consequently have no scheduled delivery date. Measurable results have been replaced by consideration and process.”
City of Sarasota staff members recently announced that they expect the Florida Department of Environmental Management (FDEP) to issue the necessary permit this fall for the dredging of Big Pass to proceed. Because the county never has fulfilled the requirements of the existing Comprehensive Plan policy, van Roekens pointed out, the USACE has based its entire plan on models. He asked that the board keep the existing Comprehensive Plan language and implement the strategy.
Both Chair Al Maio and Commissioner Christine Robinson voiced concerns about his remarks and asked staff to take a look at modifying the new language before the board adopts the revised Comprehensive Plan in late October. Although the board voted unanimously on July 6 to transmit the updated document — with changes the commission approved that day — to state officials for the required review, Maio asked Environmental Planning Manager Rachel Herman to consider van Roekens’ statements in proposing further modifications before the October public hearing.
Parsing the intentions
Existing Environmental Policy 1.2.3 says the following:
“By 2015, develop a Beach and Inlet Management strategy with monitoring program for Sarasota County, incorporating regional coordination and interaction, to:
• “assess the nature and extent of coastal erosion;
• “monitor the effectiveness of beach restoration programs;
• “determine the effect of storm events on sand movement;
• “identify dominant coastal processes which would aid in evaluating permit applications and coastal decision making;
• “incorporate the long-term effects of sea level rise within the management policies;
• “identify the impacts of modified inlets on historic erosion rates;
• “identify beach segments with common erosion/accretion histories;
• “recommend beach management strategies for each segment, including maintenance;
• “identify potential impacts to existing environmental conditions;
• “identify and assess impacts to marine habitats and wildlife;
• ensure beach management strategies are environmentally sound; and
• “develop a long term strategy for areas of chronic erosion.”
The new policy, 4.7.1, in the updated Environmental Element, says this:
“The county shall manage its beaches and inlets in consideration of the following:
• “Potential for regional coordination and cooperation
• “Nature and extent of coastal erosion and opportunities to address areas of long-term erosion
• “Adaptive management approach to beach and shoreline restoration and enhancement programs
• “Mitigation of impacts of sea level rise through planning and management
• “Management strategies for shoreline segments based on their erosion/accretion histories and trends
• “Potential affects [sic] to marine and coastal wildlife and habitats”
When Robinson asked Herman why the language had been changed, Herman replied that the modification makes the policy “more goal-oriented,” and gives the board more flexibility “to fulfill the intent of this policy rather than creating a standalone plan.” Herman added, “It’s really a philosophical difference in how you want to pursue that beach management.”
When Robinson asked for an example of such flexibility, Herman pointed to the recent board request for a staff assessment of erosion on South County beaches in the wake of Tropical Storm Colin’s damage in early June. Herman added that the commission could require a standalone plan to work in concert with specific actions to support the overall policy.
“We all have to live with this — all five commissioners,” Maio told Herman, as well as the people in his district. (Maio represents Siesta Key on the board.)
The existing Comprehensive Plan language “is much more definitive and forceful” than the new proposed policy, Maio pointed out. “I sure would like our staff armed with as much as possible.”
Maio told Herman and county Planning Division Manager Allen Parsons, “Measure it the way these folks are looking at it,” referring to van Roekens and the SOSS2 board members. Maio then asked that staff bring that analysis to the board “between now and transmittal and adoption” of the updated Comprehensive Plan.
“We would be happy to do that,” Herman replied.