By Rachel Brown Hackney
With the focus having been put on legal challenges over the past couple of months, a Biological Opinion the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued on the plans for the Lido Renourishment Project figuratively “flew under the radar.”
Yet, that opinion — issued on Dec. 29, 2016 — will have substantial bearing on the timing of part of the joint initiative of the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), if it is allowed to proceed.
Because of concerns of the effects on sea turtles of the construction of the two proposed groins on Lido Beach, the USFWS has directed, “No construction is authorized during the main part of the sea turtle nesting season (May 1 through October 31).”
However, work can take place during both daylight and nighttime hours from Nov. 11 through April 30, the opinion says. “If the [USACE or the City of Sarasota] chooses to begin construction early (November 1), construction will only be authorized during daylight hours up [to] and through November 11, to avoid encountering nesting females and emerging hatchling sea turtles,” the document continues.
In response to a question about those stipulations, Amanda Parker, a spokeswoman for the USACE at its Jacksonville District Office, wrote, “USACE will account for this in the project schedule.”
Moreover, if at any time the groins begin “to disintegrate, all debris and structural material must be removed from the nesting beach area and deposited off site immediately upon coordination with the [USFWS],” the document adds.
Additionally, the USACE or the City of Sarasota will have to “submit a Groin Maintenance Plan to describe the activities that will be conducted for the life of the Project to address any obstruction by the groins on the natural sand transfer updrift and downdrift of the nesting beach,” the document notes, and the plan “must also include physical and biological criteria to determine if the groins are effective as proposed.”
The document states, “The groins must be removed if it is determined [they are not] effective and/or causing a significant adverse impact to the beach and dune system as outlined in the Groin Maintenance Plan.”
In her comments to SNL, USACE spokeswoman Parker wrote, “The groin maintenance plan required by the USFWS [Biological Opinion] is similar to the monitoring and adaptive management strategies that we proposed as part of our coordination with the [Florida Department of Environmental Protection]. We intend to conduct extensive monitoring of the project to ensure that it is performing as expected, and we will make appropriate adjustments as required (including to the groins) to ensure that it continues to be an effective project through its 50-year lifespan.”
In September 2013, when then-Project Manager Milan Mora of the USACE unveiled the plans for the Lido Renourishment Project, he proposed three groins be built on South Lido Key in an effort to keep the new sand in place between subsequent renourishments over the 50-year life of the initiative. (The Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit would be good for only 15 years, the state agency has reported in documents.)
However, when the USACE and the city submitted their permit application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in March 2015, the plan had reduced the number of groins to two.
The Biological Opinion points out that one groin would be 170 feet long; the other, 345 feet. They collectively would encompass 0.44 acres. Both would be 9 feet wide.
Most of the construction “will be conducted primarily from the uplands,” the opinion notes. However, “some in-water work performed from a barge may be necessary due to water depths at the end of the proposed groins,” the document continues. “Some heavy equipment and boulders will be mobilized through construction access corridors,” it adds.
The sand placement is expected to take 100 days, the opinion notes, while the groin construction is anticipated to take 230 days to complete. “Some construction would likely overlap; therefore, it is expected that the entire Project will be completed in approximately 260 days.”
The Biological Opinion also says the proposed placement of new sand on about 1.6 miles of South Lido Beach, as well as the groin construction, “is likely to adversely affect” two threatened bird species: the piping plover and the red knot, though negative impacts on the endangered West Indian manatee are not expected.
Still, the USFWS indicates it believes the project ultimately will “have an overall beneficial effect on the red knot by maintaining suitable habitat” along the renourished area of the beach.
Additionally, the USFWS concludes that the presence of the groins, as proposed, “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, or Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.”
The opinion does point to research released in 2008 that says the dredging of sand bars and shoals “can cause or worsen localized erosion by altering depth contours and changing wave refraction, potentially degrading other nearby red knot habitats indirectly because inlet dynamics exert a strong influence on the adjacent shorelines.”
A study conducted of the barrier islands of Virginia and North Carolina — whose findings were reported in 1996 — found inlet influences extending 3.4 miles to 8.1 miles “and that inlets dominate shoreline changes for up to 2.7 miles,” the opinion notes. Yet other research, dating to 2000, shows “Changing the location of dominant channels at inlets can create profound alterations to the adjacent shoreline,” the opinion adds.
For the time being, the Lido Renourishment Project is on hold because of legal action. On March 9, the Siesta Key Association filed a complaint in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Sarasota, arguing that the City of Sarasota has failed to comply with Sarasota County’s Comprehensive Plan and the city’s own Comprehensive Plan in the proposal for replenishing sand on Lido Key.