Contractor cannot use county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido as staging area for city renourishment project
By Rachel Brown Hackney
In late April, Assistant Sarasota County Administrator Brad Johnson informed Deputy Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown that the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key Beach could not be used as a staging area for the long-term renourishment initiative on that shoreline.
Although Brown tried as late as early June to persuade county leaders to change their minds, a public records request found no evidence of follow-up communication from the county.
Subsequently, independent sources confirmed that the county has remained steadfast in its position.
In his letter dated April 24, Johnson wrote that he was responding to city letter regarding the use of the park “for access and staging for the Lido Beach Hurricane Storm Damage Reduction Project,” which is the official title the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has given to the proposal to place about 950,000 cubic yards of sand on South Lido Beach.
Johnson noted that the city communication indicated that “sand placement is estimated to start between September 1 and October 1, 2019. It is our understanding the project is anticipated to be completed in Spring 2020.”
Johnson also referenced an exhibit City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw had sent the county — a map depicting “a 0.6-acre staging area and a construction access path leading to the beach.”
Then Johnson wrote, “Our evaluation of the City’s request has produced several concerns including how the construction timeline conflicts with periods of high park utilization, restrictions to primary beach access points, and negative impacts to the park’s infrastructure and natural resources.”
He added, “In consideration of these potential issues, Sarasota County respectfully declines this request for use of Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach.”
DavisShaw had referred to the fact that the Sarasota Coastal Rowing Association plans to host the Sarasota International Coastal Race from Nov. 20-24, which will involve Sperling Park.
The first plea
In a March 26 letter to Shawn Yeager, manager of the county’s Beaches and Water Access Division, DavisShaw wrote that the USACE was “working on completing the design and specifications” for the long-range project to stabilize about 1.6 miles of South Lido Beach. The city was co-applicant with the USACE for the necessary Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) permit for the initiative, which proposes to use up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass.
DavisShaw added that the USACE “would like to be able to reflect Ted Sperling park [sic] as a location for staging and access as noted on the attached Exhibit 1, in the project specifications.”
Part of Sperling Park is referenced as South Lido Nature Park on the county’s website. Located at 190 Taft Drive, its amenities, its webpage says, include birding, a canoe/kayak launch, fishing, picnicking, a shelter/pavilion and wildlife viewing. It also has a restroom.
The other portion of the county property is referenced as Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach, with the address of 2201 Benjamin Franklin Drive. Its webpage notes that among its amenities are the beach access, a playground, an unpaved trail and wildlife viewing. It also has a restroom.
TripAdvisor says Sperling Park provides “unique opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural Florida beaches,” adding that the property has access to four bodies of water: the Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay and Brushy Bayou.
DavisShaw continued in her March 26 letter, “While we don’t know the specifics on the construction activities, as the means and methods will be up to the selected contractor, we would like to be able to provide a possible location for staging and access for [the USACE’s] consideration. The Corps is estimating the sand placement will take place between October 1, 2019 and December 30, 2019 and beach access and some material staging will be needed during this time period and possibly for the groin construction to be done between December 20,  and March 19, 2020.”
(On Aug. 9, the USACE cancelled its solicitation for bids for the Lido project, citing two offers that had come in “unreasonably high.” A spokesman for the USACE told SNL the federal agency was looking at other options.
The USACE also won FDEP approval to build two groins on South Lido to try to hold sand in place between subsequent renourishments over the 15-year timeframe allowed in the state permit. The original USACE project manager estimated more sand would be needed on the Lido Beach every five years.
DavisShaw added that she would like for Yeager to accept her March 26 letter as a formal request. “If the County would allow use for a shorter time period,” she pointed out, “please let me know and the Corps could modify the specifications to require the groin work take place via barge.”
On April 11, DavisShaw sent another letter to Yeager, noting that USACE project team members had refined their plans. They were going to propose that the contractor start the groin construction concurrent with work on the sand placement on the northern part of the project area, she wrote. “This may reduce the overall time period of the project,” DavisShaw pointed out.
“They also have reduced the overall area they would like to use for staging at the south staging location,” she continued. The USACE, she wrote, had said that having two locations for staging, “one at the Lido Pool area and the one attached here [in another exhibit], will be very helpful in reducing the construction activity along the beach and the impact on visitors.”
Then on June 11, Deputy City Manager Brown sent the third city letter to the county. It went to County Administrator Jonathan Lewis.
The county did not send a letter to Brown in response to the proposed modifications, the News Leader learned.