A sand haul from hell?

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100 dump trucks each weekday for 60 days will soon be headed to Turtle Beach

By John Morton

In the thick of the Siesta Key spring break gridlock, a project is slated to begin in March that will see a convoy of 100 dump trucks each weekday head onto the island along the south bridge and then turn south to Turtle Beach.

Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., those trucks will be hauling a total of 92,505 cubic yards of sand to renourish 2.1 miles of the southern portion of Turtle Beach that was washed away during 2016’s Hurricane Hermine – just four months after a previous $21.5 million renourishment project.

Turtle Beach, looking southward from the county park. (photo by John Morton)

This new window of opportunity is only about 60 days long because sea turtle season begins May 1 and the species is federally protected. The trucks will be accessing the shoreline through the county parking lot at the beach.

The project was originally projected for 2026, and then moved up several times by Sarasota County officials due to pressure from FEMA. Now, it goes into hurry-up mode because the $4 million grant FEMA provided has been determined to expire June 30 of 2023. The agency gave out several grants to area’s impacted by Hermine, and Sarasota County is the only entity to not yet utilize it. In short, FEMA wants it off its books.

Bob Luckner of the Siesta Key Association civic group has expressed concern in recent months regarding traffic, road wear, resident and tourist safety, and whether or not the plan is even realistic. It goes out for bid soon.

“I don’t think they’ll be able to pull it off,” Luckner said. “Who out there right now has the manpower and the equipment that can do it all in such a short amount of time?”

Still, the county took step one in October by hiring a firm from Florida’s east coast to begin the planning and engineering for the project. The price tag was more than $370,000.

FEMA will be paying for 75% of the project, the Florida Division of Emergency Management 12.5%, and Sarasota County 12.5% through its Tourist Development Council.

Regarding traffic, Curtis Smith, an engineer with the county’s planning services, on Dec. 1 told the Siesta Key Association that the trucks will add only 1% to the existing traffic.

Regarding the sand, it will come from sand mines located in the north-central part of Florida. Smith said it must meet Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards by not containing more than 3% silt. That threshold is lower than most of the sand already in place at Turtle Beach, he said, and is turtle-nest friendly. It will also likely be lighter in color and texture than the existing sand.

Previous renourishments there have been conducted by barge via dredging, but Smith said such a plan is not on the table.

“It would cost $4 to $5 million just to get a dredging boat to commit to the project,” he said. “And there’s not time to go back (to FEMA) and argue that with them.”

Others have suggested that existing sand currently blocking Midnight Pass could be used, but Smith said it’s also not a consideration.

No such need is in play for Crescent Beach, which has never required renourishment.

“We have beaches in this county that seem to behave this way,” Smith said. “For some reason, the Gulf doesn’t move sand around the Point of Rocks.”

The company signs on for the project, Smith added, would have to guarantee the work is done by May 1 or face liquidated damages.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

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