SKA cites 15 issues it says must be resolved before dredging of Big Pass can begin

By Rachel Brown Hackney

SarasotaNewsLeader.com

By June 4, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) had all the required pre-construction documents for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project, the SNL learned.

Therefore, department staff members figuratively “started the clock” for the formal 15-day review period, FDEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller told the SNL.

“The permit remains valid and the Permittees will be made aware if the Department or FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] has concern with any of the pre-construction submittals,” Miller wrote in her email.

FDEP issued the permit for the Lido project in June 2018. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of Sarasota were the applicants.

However, on June 12, leaders of the Siesta Key Association (SKA) initiated one more effort to try to stop the removal of sand from borrow areas in Big Sarasota Pass. In a letter signed by President Catherine Luckner and her husband, SKA Director Robert Luckner, the nonprofit cited 15 issues that it said were yet to be addressed, based on the terms of the permit. The SKA asked FDP to stop the 15-day review and “prohibit construction [the letter’s emphasis] until these are resolved.”

As of the deadline for this issue of Siesta Sand, no response from FDEP was available.

Among the SKA’s chief concerns, the letter said, was that a Groin Maintenance Plan was not included in pre-construction submittals, as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s December 2016 Biological Opinion for the Lido project. The Luckners also pointed out that the Physical Monitoring Plan FDEP had received did not include the Fish and Wildlife Service’s directive that the groins would have to be removed if they were found to cause adverse impacts.

In his June 5 newsletter, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin had noted that the dredging of Big Pass still was scheduled to begin about July 6. 

“Expect to see the contactor, Cottrell Contracting Corp., moving equipment soon,” he added. 

The USACE announced on March 19 that it had awarded the Lido bid to Cottrell, which is based in Chesapeake, Va. Yet, it was not until June 5, the SNL learned, that the federal government website on which the USACE published its Lido solicitation formally announced that the award went to Cottrell.

“Crews plan to begin on the south end [of Lido Beach] and move northward,” Barwin continued in his newsletter. Sand is to be pumped on the beach 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he added, “as with previous beach restoration projects.” Further, he wrote, “The contractor expects to finish with the sand in November, then in December begin constructing the groins, which will absorb wave action and slow natural beach erosion.”

David Ruderman, a spokesman for the USACE in its Jacksonville District Office, earlier had told the SNL that the two groins planned for the southern part of the Lido project area would have to be constructed after the end of sea turtle nesting season, which concludes officially on Oct. 31.

The groins have been planned to try to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments, as well, a prior project team leader explained.

During a March 2016 County Commission meeting, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw said she anticipated that subsequent sand placement might not be necessary more often than every seven years. However, in his June 5 newsletter, City Manager Barwin noted, “Future renourishments will occur every 3 to 5 years or as needed depending upon the severity of erosion and threat to nearby infrastructure.” 

The FDEP permit is valid for 15 years.

And thanks to an agreement executed between the city and Sarasota County in late January, Cottrell will be able to use a staging area in the county’s Sperling Park on the south end of Lido.

Among other stipulations, the agreement calls for that area to be “restored to its original or better condition” after the contractor has no more need of it. The restoration must be completed by May 31, 2021.

Other submittal documents

On May 18, Miller of FDEP told the SNL that one of the final permit requirements remaining to be fulfilled for the Lido undertaking was submission of details regarding the monitoring of water turbidity in conjunction with the dredging.

Although the state permit allows Cottrell Contracting to remove up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from borrow areas in Big Pass, the solicitation materials the USACE published in December 2019 said that 710,000 cubic yards would be placed on Lido Beach.

Documents filed with FDEP as the USACE and the city went through the permitting process indicated that sediment essentially would be lost in the water, resulting in cloudiness, or turbidity, which can be harmful to sea life.

In reviewing the pre-construction submittals in the Lido project’s permit folder, which is available on FDEP’s website, the SNL found a document from Dial Cordy and Associates Inc. that provided details about the turbidity monitoring. The firm’s website says it is headquartered in Jacksonville Beach.

“If turbidity levels measured at compliance sites exceed [the applicable standards],” the document points out, “construction activities will cease immediately and not resume until corrective measures have been implemented and turbidity has returned to acceptable levels.”

The turbidity monitoring was another issue the SKA raised in its letter to FDEP. The Luckners pointed out that the state permit calls for the turbidity contractor to be independent of the design contractor. However, they continued, that does not appear to be the case. Dial Cordy “was a design contractor to this project in 2001 for the original USACE Environmental Assessment,” they noted, and it prepared the final Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Report for the Lido Key Shore Protection Project in 2002.

“Dial Cordy’s study is a primary basis document for this project’s ‘Seagrass Mitigation and Monitoring Plan,’” the Luckners wrote.