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SKA continues to seek donations for legal expenses

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

During the November Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Director Robert Luckner reminded regular attendees — and updated snowbirds back for season — that, in mid-December, the nonprofit will file its appeal of the Circuit Court decision in the Big Pass case.

On Sept. 19, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh ruled that she had found that the City of Sarasota “did not have an indispensable legal duty” to issue a determination that the plans for the Lido Key Renourishment Project are consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.”

The city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have planned to remove up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass and its ebb shoal for the Lido initiative.

“We paid our $15,000 bill to the lawyer who argued [the case] for us,” Robert Luckner noted on Nov. 7. “We’ve had our lawyer approach their lawyers,” he continued, referring to the city and the Lido Key Residents Association (LKRA), which intervened in the case. “You know, they do this little dance,” Luckner said. “We’ll see what comes of all that.”

Luckner then thanked members who had contributed about $6,000 to the SKA over the past couple of months to enable the nonprofit to continue its legal fight to prevent the removal of sand from Big Pass, which never has been dredged. “You notice that was a little smaller than what our debt was,” he added of the total donated.

A number of people had provided contributions of “$100, plus or minus,” he said. “I run to the bank, it seems, like once a day, put somebody’s check in.”

If anyone still feels generous, Luckner continued, “We’re still looking for money.”

Then Dave Patton, the co-plaintiff in the SKA’s Circuit Court case, shouted out from the audience a question about whether checks should be made out to the Siesta Key Environmental Defense Fund (SKEDF).

That is correct, Luckner replied. People can go online to donate to the fund or they can send checks, Luckner added. “You get a tax-deductible receipt back from us.”

Robert Luckner’s wife, Catherine — the SKA president — pointed out that when the SKA was established 70 years ago, its motto was “To exist to do good.”

The nonprofit has been involved in litigation only three times in all its decades of existence, she explained.

The first time was in 1993, when the City of Venice wanted to dredge Big Pass to renourish the Venice Public Beach. That was when Save Our Sand (SOS) was organized, Catherine Luckner continued; SOS had a wide variety of members who were determined to prevent removal of sand from the pass for the Venice project.

“It was very successful,” she added of that litigation, as the state ended up rescinding the permit it had issued to Venice.

The second time the SKA engaged in litigation, she noted, was more than a decade ago, when it tried to stop Sarasota County from allowing construction of duplexes on Key parcels zoned for multi-family housing. The SKA leaders were concerned about increased residential density and intensity of uses on Siesta, Luckner explained. However, they lost that case.

Then, in 2017, the SKA filed its verified complaint against the City of Sarasota to try to prevent the latest proposal for the removal of sand from Big Pass.

Throughout her life, Catherine Luckner continued, she had been fortunate on a personal and professional basis to avoid lawsuits until the SKA began its initiative to preserve Big Pass as a natural waterway and prevent potential damage to the navigational channel and to the northern end of Siesta as a result of the design of the Lido Key Renourishment Project.

“I think I’ve maxed out my credits for at least the next four lifetimes,” she added, prompting laughter among the audience members.

“It’s very hard to be antagonistic to your neighbors,” she said of the situation with the City of Sarasota and Lido residents.

Some onlookers — and some members of the news media — have characterized it as “Siesta versus Lido.”

The SKA’s goal never has been to prevent the renourishment of South Lido Beach, Luckner stressed. In fact, she said, she and her husband have spent quite a lot of time working to try to find better solutions for Lido residents than the project the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been pursuing.

“We’re not a litigious organization,” she reiterated her earlier point. “We took this very seriously.”

Moreover, she said, “It’s very hard to ask for money” to continue the legal challenge.