State grants six-month extension to City of Sarasota and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for answers on Lido project
By Rachel Brown Hackney
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) has granted a six-month extension to the City of Sarasota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a response to the agency’s second Request for Additional Information (RAI2) regarding the proposal to dredge Big Sarasota Pass to renourish Lido Key Beach.
That extension will end on Sept. 16.
On March 16, Michelle R. Pfeiffer, senior project manager with CB&I Coastal Planning & Engineering Inc. in Boca Raton, the USACE’s consultant on the project, wrote Greg Garis, the FDEP environmental specialist overseeing the permit application for the city and the USACE, requesting the six-month extension. Garis replaced Chiu Cheng, who had handled the City of Sarasota/USACE permit application since it was filed in March 2015. Cheng left FDEP at the end of February.
“We have been actively working to develop a suitable seagrass mitigation plan, and coordination with FDEP and FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] is ongoing,” Pfeiffer wrote in the email.
On Oct. 7, 2015, she noted, FDEP issued its RAI2, including the requirement for the seagrass mitigation plan. On Dec. 23, 2015, she continued, CB&I submitted a seagrass mitigation and monitoring plan for FDEP staff to review. Then, on Feb. 1, Pfeiffer added, “FDEP led a conference call with the City [of Sarasota, the USACE], FDEP and FWC staff to provide their comments” on that plan. On Feb. 4, she continued, “We received an email from FDEP stating that FWC will not approve our proposed mitigation site in Pansy Bayou and asking us to develop an alternate plan.”
From that point through March, she indicated, CB&I staff had been “researching alternative sites/options for seagrass mitigation.” On March 16, Garis responded to Pfeiffer in an email: “The extension will be granted.”
Siesta Key Association (SKA) Vice President Catherine Luckner, and her husband, Bob — who has expertise in engineering and permitting matters — have been acting as the organization’s point persons on the Lido Renourishment Plan. She told the SNL that she spoke with Garis on April 7, during which time he also reported that the USACE has not filed any answers to the other questions FDEP posed with RAI2.
If the FDEP has not received all the requested documentation by Sept. 16, no further extension will be provided, Luckner explained, referencing her conversation with Garis. Garis also apologized to her, she said, for not having posted the Pfeiffer email exchange on the FDEP website as part of the project materials.
When FDEP issued the RAI2 in October 2015, its staff pointed out that the USACE had proposed a 100-foot buffer around seagrasses located within the sand borrow areas of Big Pass. The USACE also had stated its plan to “exclude seagrass from the mixing zone.”
However, FDEP staff wrote in the RAI2 that it “has determined that these measures will not be sufficient to protect seagrass resources within the project area.”
FDEP staff further noted, “Seagrass surveys conducted in 2014 by [the USACE’s consultant, CB&I] documented at least 1.7 acres of seagrass habitat within the proposed borrow areas.” While most of those resources are in Borrow Area D, the RAI2 says, some also are in Borrow Areas B and C. “All resources located within borrow areas are expected to be lost (directly impacted) due to dredging activities,” the RAI2 adds. “Because the distribution of seagrasses is not static,” the document says, the establishment of 100-foot buffers based on the 2014 data “does not provide reasonable assurance that impacts to seagrasses will be avoided.”
Among other documentation FDEP sought in the RAI2 was information about the volume of material to be removed from each borrow area during the first and subsequent renourishments of Lido Key. (The city and the USACE have proposed a 50-year project. During a March 23 County Commission discussion of a county-funded peer review of the proposal, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw said she estimated the second renourishment would take place seven to 10 years after the first one.)
Yet another key missing piece required of the USACE response, Luckner pointed out to SNL, is the “biological opinion.”
Luckner explained to SKA members during their December 2015 meeting that the USACE and the city would have to provide FDEP a document from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding potential impacts on wildlife in the area targeted for the beach renourishment, including the amount of time between projects it is estimated for the beach’s natural food supply for wildlife to return to the pre-construction level.
In FDEP’s first Request for Additional Information (RAI1) regarding the City of Sarasota/USACE Lido project — dated April 15, 2015 — FDEP staff wrote, “Please provide an updated Incidental Take and Biological Opinions from both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The incidental take authorization should assess take due to construction of the [proposed groins] as well as potential impacts to nesting and nearshore foraging sea turtles. This Opinion should include potential impacts to nearshore hard bottom habitats as well as impacts due to fill placement.”
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