Seagrass and Loss of Marine Life by Dredging: CAN WE SAVE IT?

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There’s still time – The Lido nourishment project can become ‘whole’ for our community; a project that benefits ‘at risk’ property on Lido Key without harm to our increasingly ‘at risk’ coastal environment. 

What will it take? Since 2013, Siesta Key Association of Sarasota (SKA) has reached out to neighbors and those who have regulatory authority. These entities include City of Sarasota, Sarasota County, State of Florida DEP, Army Corp of Engineers, (ACOE), Senator Vernon Buchanan, and State Representative Margaret Good.  Repeatedly stated in public governmental hearings, SKA wants a ‘best practices’ plan for our community.  We are at risk without action taken now!

SKA requested (July, 2016) an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be done prior to any further project development. Our County Commissioners immediately responded (5-0), sending their request to ACOE in August, 2016.  In 2016, more than 12 years passed since a biologic opinion and coastal engineeringassessment was conducted by the ACOE. The ACOE declined the EIS request in late November 2016.

* Our County and Coastal partners spent significant funds to develop a future Inlet Management Plan (IMP) for Big Sarasota Pass (2010). This plan noted risk factors, made recommendations of ‘caution’ regarding any dredging within the Pass. The IMP was never approved. Why?

* This IMP was prohibited from disclosure in our State FDEP Hearing by the Administrative Law Judge.

* The County paid $50,000 for the Atkins Engineering review (2016). The County sent a letter to the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Commission requesting a delay in any decision on comments submitted to the FDEP regarding this Lido nourishment project. The delay allowed for Atkins review and from Staff. The FDEP relied upon the SWFR Planning recommendations before any decisions on environmental projects. The County letter, asking for delay, NEVER MADE IT INTO TO THE FDEP record on this project. The absence of this letter altered the Administrative Review.FDEP testified no regional Partners reported concerns and FDEP permitted the project ‘as is’.

**Why didn’t the letter make it to the FDEP record? SKA found it in a Record request to the County.

SWFRP stated they couldn’t find a record of their response due to computer failure. FDEP made its decision without considering the County request.

**Our community also received recommendations from internationally recognized Coastal Geologic Researcher, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, Florida International University.  He stated on several occasions, this project, as designed, is “too risky “.

The “red line for action” is Seagrass

**CRITICAL to overall water quality, marine life and human health and recreational use of coastal waters is Seagrass!  “The health of Sarasota Bay has seen significant gains since it was named an estuary of national significance by the U.S. Congress in 1989. SBEP began in June 1989 when Sarasota Bay was designated an “estuary of national significance” by the U.S. Congress as part of the Water Quality Act of 1987. SBEP is one of 28 National Estuary Programs in the United States. The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is a member of the Association of National Estuary Programs.” Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

Seagrass restoration and studies to increase shellfish, fish nursery habitat, has been funded by our entire citizen community, Federal and State, and supported by hundreds of volunteers to observe its quality sn quantity. All Governmental partners, including the City of Sarasota and Sarasota County, have implemented Comprehensive Plan language, ordinance and review process for all environmental impacts affecting seagrass and supported marine life.

**Until this past year, 2018, the reports for seagrass increase has been positive. The most recent reports indicate sea grass has suffered. Increased intensity and duration of red tide in 2017-18, adversely impacted fish, manatee, dolphin, shore birds and humans living near gulf water bodies. What assists with recovery is seagrass habitat with filter feeders such a shrimp, scallops, oysters. 

**In 2014, SBEP commissioned a two-year economic Valuation Study to “better understand the total value of Sarasota Bay resources and the ecosystem services that the Bay provides to the surrounding community.”  The study concluded the value of Sarasota Bay resources to households in Sarasota and Manatee counties is $11.8 billion. (Sarasota Bay Estuary Program website) 

Question: Why has the City ignored agreements they made (their ordinance, comprehensive plan and interlocal agreement) with SBE and the County?  All submerged land in City limits is ‘designated’ by ordinance as ‘MARINE PARK DISTRICT”. There is strict regulation of what is permitted within the waters of the City.  Changing “USE’allowed within the Marine Park District is done solely by vote of the City Commissioners. City Plan states “…follow SBE rules”, and not harm neighboring municipalities.

They have never taken this action as required. Sarasota Bay Estuary (SBE) interlocal agreement states not to damage seagrasses.

Question:  Why has the City Commission never held a public hearing and voted on the seagrass destruction in the Marine Park? Not in their application to the FDEP, not upon receipt of the FDEP Permit which states “it does not exempt them” from complying with all local rules, regulations and ordinances. They have not complied with required governance related to sea grass destruction and mitigation.

Question: Per Ordinance, Sarasota County must be asked to approve any sea grass mitigation that occur outside of County waters include all those within the City. Only the County Administrator can authorize sea grass mitigation OUTSIDE of Sarasota County waters. City NEVER applied.

Question:  How can “use” of Marine Park  waters, with destruction of sea grass, be consistent with SBE and the interlocal agreement between governmental bodies? Marine Park (MP) zone district was adopted to protect and preserve water areas within the city. Any use of the area shall protect the right of public to use and enjoy, e.g, preserve grass flats for recreational activity.

Question: Will the County stand up, step up, to initiate proper protections that are well known and can be done now! We ask the City to work within their ordinance agreements, to consider alternatives that protect all the residents and businesses of our County most likely to be impacted by this project.

DO: Remove all seagrass areas from the existing project design. You can do this NOW. This will save the cost of mitigation outside the County ($1.4M plus monitoring). ACOE has already declined to use the eastern most portion of the Pass where seagrass is abundant.

DO: Stay outside the Pass for sand harvesting/dredging. The ACOE recently increased the allowed amount of sand to be ‘lost’ as they dredge. ACOE is allowing a 50% loss while sand is dredged, more than is typical and not BEST Practices for dredging operators.  It means they dredge twice as much. Turbidity and fouling of coastal waters will occur, affecting marine life and human recreation.  

Will the County agree an EIS is still necessary? Red tide, loss of sea grass, and water quality issues make our Bay Estuary marine life vulnerable. We must KEEP our natural protection provided by sea grasses. HELP us enforce what is legally required by governance from City of Sarasota and Sarasota County.

Siesta Sand
Author: Siesta Sand

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