by Stan Zimmerman
New bus shelters for Siesta
Don’t run outside yet, because you’ll be waiting for a long time. But eventually new bus shelters are planned for areas near Siesta Beach in 2016. In addition new crosswalk striping and handicap ramps would be provided at three locations at the public beach main parking lot.
Two existing bus shelters at the north and south end of the public beach along Beach Road – opposite Midnight Pass Road and Aveneda De Mar – are planned to receive upgrades, including bike racks.
Staff was instructed not to start the shelter and crosswalk work until the $21.5 million public beach project is finished in November 2015. Meanwhile you’ll be happy with a bench. Most county bus stops don’t even have that.
Paddleboarders get a toehold
Sarasota County Commissioners gave a weak cautionary yellow light for staff to begin consideration of a paddleboard rental concession at the Siesta Key Public Beach. Even before it reached commissioners, there was opposition. Siesta’s lifeguards, for one, are not in favor and cite swimmer safety concerns.
When they spot a person lugging a standup paddleboard over the beach, lifeguards warn them they are not allowed in the marked swimming zone. Commissioner Nora Patterson reminded the board of her experience in Sarasota city government when it allowed jet ski rentals on Lido Beach. “I had constant complaints about that,” she said.
The Siesta Key Association had already emailed its opposition to paddleboards in the swim zone, so local resistance exists. Three county commissioners said they’d favor staff looking at the idea, checking with other areas to determine best practices for example.
Commissioner Joe Barbetta reminded the board anybody with a paddleboard can show up and use it. “It’s just that they can’t go into the swim zone,” he said.
Drainage costs skyrocket
The price of a years-old plan to decontaminate storm water at Siesta Beach is three times what the county commission was led to expect. Commissioners approved a contract for $4.6 million for the Beach Road Draining Improvements Project.
The effort came after the county health department closed the beach for swimming because bacteria counts were too high. A quick study showed the contamination probably came from pet waste washed out to the gulf through a swale.
At first the county wanted to treat the storm water with ozone and pump it into the Grand Canal, but residents resisted. So a scheme was devised and approved to build a pipeline hundreds of feet into the gulf for the discharge.
A consulting engineering firm estimated the pipeline would cost about $680,000 but the bid came back at $2.3 million. The engineering firm agreed to take a $6,000 cut in fees (from their $250,000 contract) to atone for the error.
Corp pushes back study release
We’ve been promised a new model of the impact of dredging in Big Pass since January. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says the model will be released by the end of April. The ACE has been under increasing public criticism and scrutiny for their plan to “mine” sand from the Big Pass ebb shoal north and west of the channel to renourish South Lido Beach.
Five organizations on Siesta Key have come out opposing the re-nourishment plan, in part due to the uncertain impact of dredging in Big Pass for the first time in history. Very few other coastal passes on the west coast of Florida remain un-dredged.
The original plan calls for moving up to 1.2 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass to re-nourish a 1.6 mile stretch of Lido Key Park. The plan stretches for 50 years, and calls for alternating the use of Big Pass and New Pass for donor sand.
Both the city and county commissions are on “hold” until the new modeling study is released.
Help for Stickney Point “parking lot”
It seemed such a simple change, a “no turn on red” sign to help pedestrians survive the crossing of Beach Road at the Stickney Point Road intersection. While it may have saved walkers a scare or two, it created a gigantic traffic back up on Stickney Point sometimes stretching across the bridge spanning the Intra-Coastal Waterway.
All of this is happening at the worst possible time of the year when Siesta welcomes millions (well, it seems like millions) to enjoy the beachy lifestyle and escape from the horror of an Arctic-like winter. Instead they’re sitting in a creeping parking lot on Stickney Point, only able to dream of drinks with little umbrellas.
Blame the always-thinking-ahead Florida Dept. of Transportation, who now have a better idea. The pedestrian trying to cross Beach Road will push a button. A sign lights up – “no turn on red” – to allow safe passage. No pedestrian, no light, and traffic can flow.
With the FDOT in charge, it’s hard to tell when the magic button will arrive. Nobody’s willing to say, only that “We’re already communicating and moving forward with that.”