City of Sarasota/ Army Corps of Engineers and Big Pass Shoal/Money

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Commentary by Bob Stein

All of the above go together like steak and potatoes, ham and eggs, spaghetti and meatballs. What am I talking about? The Lido Beach Re-nourishment Project. If you look deep into why the City of Sarasota would contract with the Army Corps of Engineers you will see that one needs the other to work.

After Tropical Storm Debbie blew through the area in 2012, Lido Beach shrank leaving many structures at risk. FEMA stepped in; federal dollars to the rescue – as of yet to be used.

Lido still needs to have its beach renourished, but to 2009 standards. It loses about 30,000 cubic yards of sand annually and was last re-nourished in 2009. If everything goes according to plan, the process to re-nourish Lido Beach will start after Turtle season this year.

Estimating that the approved Debbie re-nourishment project is about 112,000 cubic yards and 60,000 lost from 2013 and 2014, Lido would need about 172,000 cubic yards. The County Commissioners said they are committed to helping financially, adding millions of dollars of TDT (Tourist Development Tax) to cover extra costs to increase the Debbie Beach Re-nourishment Project, basically to 2009 standards. But they need to actually vote on the funding which should be discussed at the August 20th workshop. The sand is to be harvested right off Lido’s shore, the Lido shoal. So why do they need 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from the Big Pass Shoal?

I’m back to the steak and potatoes analogy. The Corps brings the plan to the project and the City wants the money. The Big Pass Shoal (Siesta Key Shoal) has the sand and it’s close to Lido Beach, thus the Plan and the Money, the Beach and the Shoal. The plan is gigantic, placing a 5 foot berm running 1.6 miles with three huge buried groins to slow down the erosion. If the Corps’ plan is rejected, they leave taking their federal dollars with them.

If the Corps’ plan is implemented, federal dollars will cover 63% of the total cost. Once the federal money is flowing, the state will pick-up 50% of the balance, leaving the City of Sarasota needing to ante up only 18.5% of the total project. This will happen every time Lido needs to be re-nourished for the next 50 years.

I will go one step further. Once the Big Pass Shoal has been harvested for Lido, what or who will stop neighboring Keys and islands from asking for this sand? The way the islands to the north see it; this is their sand to begin with. As their beaches lose sand it flows south hitting the Big Pass Shoal. The shoal protects and re-nourishes Siesta Key beach naturally.

According to the Corps, historically, the Big Pass Shoal always had around 20 million cubic yards of sand but has recently grown to 23 million. The Corps’ plan uses three different areas to harvest the sand. The Corps also states the shoal will be maintained at the historical 20 million cubic yards of sand level.

Siesta Key is considered to be the oldest natural island/Key in all of Florida, based on The of Point of Rocks.   Lido Key is manmade. As we have created these manmade islands, past planners did not fully understand how the weather, underwater currents and the tides would be affected by these changes.

An independent peer review must happen along with a review of past plans already implemented around the coastal communities of Florida. It must look back at what these models were to accomplish and how they performed.

What plan will be used to harvest the sand? What if the Corps is wrong and Siesta Key is damaged? Who will make sure the shoal is maintained at 20 million cubic yards of sand? Who will stop neighboring islands and others from harvesting the sand? We cannot even get the county to trim our palm trees of the dead fronds along our roads, parks and at the beach. Oh, and by the way, are you aware Siesta Key is # 1 in creating tourist tax dollars and paying property taxes?  That’s sweet and sour.

County Holds Key in Stopping Big Pass Dredging

There is one way this project is halted and halted fast!  The third groin proposed to be placed in Ted Sperling Park on the southern end of Lido Key is on Sarasota County  property. If the County denies access to build this groin the project basically dies.  The Army Corp of Engineers must then start from scratch remodeling the plan.  The County Commissioners hold the key.  Could the County be sued if they grant access for the groin to be installed?  The Ted Sperline County Park ws established to be “forever maintained in its natural state for public use and recreation.”  The following article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue).

Lido and City of Sarasota fight Dredge and Fill … a time capsule
Catherine Luckner 

In old newsprint, carefully archived at the History Center, a victory unfolds. Sarasota county and city residents saved the shoreline and natural coastal beauty of south Lido Key .  

It was 1967 when Arvida Corporation sought permits for development of the southern tip of Lido Key. Arvida was a most influential community development corporation throughout Florida beginning in 1958. Their plan was not unlike that of Bird Key, taking dredged materials to create land for development. Their plan was to dredge and fill 160 acres on south Lido, create extended shoreline, a golf course, a hotel, canals, eliminate Brushy lagoon, from Otter Key bayside to the gulf front bulkhead of south Lido. The Big Pass shoreline was one aspect of the litigation between the City and Arvida. Property boundaries and ownership was questioned where accreted shoreline existed.  On two occasions, despite well documented business plans, engineering designs and potential tax revenue, the Sarasota City Commission and Planning Board denied the Arvida permit requests.

Residents from Lido Key and Sarasota, including 50 local organizations, fought for conservation of the marine and estuary environment. The primary concern was the impact of dredging and filling on the shallow grassy flats, known for bird, fish and mammal habitat. The efforts gathered momentum and included Senators and then Governor, Claude Kirk , as they petitioned against the development.

This grassroots effort of private citizens, led by local businessman Ted Sperling, became the Save Our Bays Association (SOBA). One news account reported more than 1500 residents attending a City Commission meeting to contest the Arvida proposal.  In the City v. Arvida conflict, “It’s within…the powers of city government (re City owned property) to restrict the amount of dredging and filling if it’s shown the public interest is served”. (Gil waters, City of Sarasota Commissioner)

The Sarasota City Commission unanimously denied the Arvida permit application one last time in 1968.

Between 1968 and 1972, SOBA began the process of inquiry for land acquisition under a new Federal program from the Dept. of the Interior and Florida Dept. of Natural Resource to purchase environmentally sensitive lands for ‘open space and recreation by the public”. Under the program guidelines, it was noted … ” gulf and bay frontage is our greatest natural resource and fast disappearing”.

Without likelihood of permitting, Arvida was soon interested in selling the south Lido and Otter Key properties. SOBA and Sarasota County initiated the quest for newly available Federal funding offered through the State of Florida. The “open spaces and recreation’ grants were to be used for permanent conservation protection and use by the public.

The preservation of Otter Key (30 acres) , it’s Mangrove bay bottom root system and South Lido property (130 acres) became one of the first opportunities for a Florida County to purchase and protect lands under new Federal Regulations. With an affordable price and funding, the momentum led Sarasota County Commission to hold a Voter referendum to purchase the land with a property tax mill increase. Another parcel also became available, 20 acres offered by the Casperson Family.

We know this added purchase of land as our County Park of Casperson Beach.

Arvida agreed to sell the Lido and Otter Key properties for $3,750,000. The total bond referendum approved was approximately $ 7.7M with option for 10 percent increase if the appraisals varied.

In a County wide Referendum held on May 1, 1973 the voters of Sarasota County made a commitment to the land and it’s environmental protection. In a 9-1 county wide margin, voters approved an extra ½ mill on property taxes for 30 years or until funding was complete. The residents of Lido Key voted in a 10-1 margin to approve the purchase.

The Federal and State grants of $943,000 were secured and set aside by Sarasota County for future purchases of environmentally sensitive land. This purchase and all the effort toward it, altered the course of development , the prioritization of natural resources and maintaining the natural beauty of Sarasota as the County continued to grow.

The South Lido County Park was established to be “forever maintained in it’s natural state for public use and recreation” . It was subsequently named in remembrance of Ted Sperling, the resident and visionary who galvanized the community in this direction.

What will newsprint in the History Center Archives tell us in the future?

Did we keep the natural beauty of old Florida?

Will we kayak through Mangrove tunnels, watch Manatee play, find nesting birds, clean water, go fishing and find it abundant?

Will we look across the blue water of Big Pass and find what we love?

Will they build groins and dredge the south shore of Lido Key?

Siesta Sand
Author: Siesta Sand

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