Part of Big Pass Sand borrow area between northernmost Siesta Key and Lido Key eliminated from proposed dredging plans
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Close to a third of one area of Big Sarasota Pass has been eliminated as a sand source for the planned Lido Key Beach Renourishment Project.
Maps provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in its solicitation for bids for the project showed the easternmost portion of Cut C was marked “No Dredging.”
In early October 2018, Robert Luckner, a representative of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), notified Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw that he had found information through the city’s GIS mapping system about a city potable water line in Cut C. His research showed the pipeline crossing from Sarasota County’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido to the Bay Island system on northern Siesta Key.
The only mention he had seen in regard to any underwater infrastructure in that sand borrow area, he added, was a notation of a cable crossing. Luckner asked what steps the city and the USACE would take to avoid the cable and the potable watermain if they were able to proceed with dredging in that part of Big Pass.
DavisShaw replied that she would check with city Utilities Department staff and provide Luckner an answer.
Sixteen days later — on Oct. 18, 2018 — DavisShaw responded that she had contacted USACE staff members about the infrastructure. “They are aware of it,” she added, “and as part of the design effort will get more detail on the facilities and [note] them on the plans.”
In response to questions about the change involving Cut C in the bid package, Trisston Brown, a USACE public information officer, wrote in a June 14 email, “The eastern portion of Borrow Area C is permitted by FDEP [the Florida Department of Environmental Protection] as beach-compatible fill sand. However, it is a lower priority area for a few reasons:
“1) the available volume is relatively small and the cut depth is relatively thin compared to other borrow areas to be dredged;
“2) a portion of Borrow Area C is unavailable due to a no-dredge buffer around water mains and an electric cable that cross the inlet;
“3) sparse seagrasses exist adjacent to the dredge area with the potential to be impacted; and
“4) the sand in the other borrow areas is slightly more compatible with the existing beach.”
The bid package provides details about sediment samples taken at various locations in the borrow areas through a method called “vibracoring.” A number of references are made to “poorly-graded” sand in the eliminated section of Cut C.
As for the seagrass in that part of the borrow area: On May 20, the Sarasota City Commission was scheduled to consider a seagrass mitigation agreement with the Manatee County Commission because of expected destruction of seagrass with the dredging of Big Pass. However, DavisShaw asked that the item be pulled from the agenda because of USACE requests she received the previous Friday, May 17, regarding modifications for the agreement.
SKA representatives and the nonprofit Suncoast Waterkeeper have protested the mitigation plan for a number of reasons, including the distance of Perico Preserve — a manmade basin connected to Tampa Bay — from Big Pass.
In a memo to the City Commission in advance of the May 20 meeting, DavisShaw had explained that the proposed removal of sand from Big Pass was anticipated to destroy 1.68 acres of seagrass. As a result, the permit the city and the USACE received from FDEP for the Lido Renourishment Project called for the creation of 2.9 to 3.2 acres of new seagrass as mitigation.
The Final Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) the USACE completed in July 2018 for the Lido Renourishment Project included a graphic showing the sections of the proposed sand borrow areas where biologists had found seagrasses. Notes accompanying that graphic referenced seagrasses observed “in the northeastern portion of the investigation area,” referring to the part of Cut C that the USACE has eliminated in the bid package. The notes added that two types of seagrasses were found there “in varying densities between 50 and 100 percent cover in shallow waters up to four feet in depth.
Both the SKA and a second Siesta-based nonprofit, Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), are pursuing legal challenges in an effort to stop the dredging of Big Pass, out of concern that the initiative would result in serious damage to Siesta’s shoreline and Big Pass itself as a navigational channel. The SKA filed a complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in March 2017, while SOSS2 filed suit against the USACE in January in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
A hearing has been rescheduled from July 19 to Aug. 16 in the SKA case.
Referring to the USACE change of plan with Cut C, SKA President Catherine Luckner told SNL that the federal agency “is finally accepting our previous statements about that portion of Borrow Area ‘C’ having little sand value and [the] illegality [of mitigating] seagrass destruction outside Sarasota County.
“The City of Sarasota has been spared a needless and environmentally destructive contract for mitigation,” Luckner added.
Details about the USACE solicitation
The advertisement of the USACE bid package on the Federal Business Opportunities website said the posting went up on May 16. The original response date for interested companies was June 19; however, that was pushed back to July 2.
During a joint meeting of the Sarasota and Charlotte County commissions in late February, a consultant working with both counties on Manasota Key Beach renourishment projects pointed out that only a few companies worldwide continue to pursue major dredging initiatives.
Michael T. Poff, president of Coastal Engineering Consultants in Naples, indicated that the bigger the project, the more interest it would generate among those firms.