Majority of county commissioners agree Army Corps of Engineers can use county park to stage work for Lido Renourishment Project, but only with extra contractual protection should damage occur
By Rachel Brown Hackney
Four of the five Sarasota County commissioners have agreed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) can plan on the county’s Ted Sperling Park on South Lido Key as a staging area for the City of Sarasota’s long-term renourishment project on the South Lido shoreline.
However, the Nov. 5 motion by Commissioner Christian Ziegler called for county staff to work with city staff to ensure that the county will have recourse if two groins the USACE plans on South Lido end up causing damage to the park, or if other problems arise from the renourishment initiative; as Ziegler put it, “So we have proper protections that if anything goes south, that we can come in … and adjust — literally so.”
Earlier, Ziegler had voiced worries about the groins’ potential impact on the natural north-to-south downdrift pattern of sand flow on the west coast of Florida. He called Siesta Key’s beach — south of Lido — “really our crown jewel for tourism here locally [that] really helps build the identity of Sarasota County.”
Chair Charles Hines seconded the motion.
The lone “No” vote came from Commissioner Alan Maio, who was chair of the county board in 2016 when he and his colleagues at that time sent letters to both the USACE and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), requesting that an in-depth environmental analysis of the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project be undertaken prior to FDEP’s awarding the necessary permit to the city and the USACE for the Lido initiative.
“I am still shocked at how our request for an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] by two jurisdictions above us … was just dismissed,” Maio said on Nov. 5, during the County Commission’s regular meeting, held in Venice. “People can couch that response however they like,” Maio continued, “but our request was just dismissed.”
During the Open to the Public portion of the meeting, Mark Smith, representing the Siesta Key-based nonprofit Save Our Siesta Sand 2 (SOSS2), also referred to the inaction at the state and federal levels, saying the City of Sarasota and the USACE “[have] blown you off.”
SOSS2 filed suit against the USACE in U.S. District Court in Tampa in January, contending that the USACE has violated a number of federal policies — including the National Environmental Policy Act — by refusing to undertake an EIS on the Lido project.
“If things go wrong,” Smith told the commissioners on Nov. 5, referring to the city’s and the USACE’s plans, “you can just almost predict that they’re just going to say, ‘Well, that’s just too bad.’ … You need to protect our park, our county, the environment,” Smith stressed to the commissioners.
At one point, Commissioner Michael Moran told his colleagues, “Could you imagine, just for a minute, if this was a private project … what we could put [the applicant] through,” in regard to fees, permitting, “performance bonds and hearing after hearing after hearing. … We better make sure that we would put our city partner through what we would a private-sector [applicant] to represent our taxpayers.”
Moran added, “It’s in the interest of this community to get this right.”
In an appearance before the County Commission that morning, Sarasota City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw countered Smith’s assertions, explaining that the FDEP permit for the Lido initiative “does have very, very strict monitoring requirements, more broad than any permit we’ve ever had …”
That includes the monitoring of any potential effects on Siesta Key from the dredging of up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Sarasota Pass to place on the Lido Beach, she indicated to the commissioners.
If results showed any problems on Siesta Key or that the “behavior of the [Lido] shoreline is not within historical normal tolerance,” DavisShaw added, “then [FDEP] would require us to make modifications.”
As a result, she continued, the USACE modified its design of the groins to make it easier to adjust them, if that becomes a necessity.
“Our goal is to make sure … both keys are functioning the best they can,” DavisShaw told the commissioners, referring to Siesta and Lido. “I think we would be more than happy to have something in [the park use agreement] so we could give you that comfort level.”
Laying the groundwork
The County Commission action followed up on an Oct. 8 discussion prompted by a Sept. 27 letter from City Manager Tom Barwin and a Sarasota City Commission vote on Oct. 7.
Both DavisShaw and Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown had failed in efforts earlier this year to win county staff approval for use of Sperling Park for USACE staging purposes.
In correspondence and conversation with the USACE, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told the county board on Nov. 5, he had learned that the federal agency would be able to shave $1 million off the project costs if the County Commission agreed to permit the staging in Ted Sperling Park.
Lewis also noted that he had been operating “under the impression” that a County Commission decision on the staging request was necessary that day. However, he continued, while that “is certainly their preference, to have it before the end of this week,” the USACE had let him know that, in a “worst-case scenario,” it later could adjust its upcoming solicitation package for the Lido project.
In early August, the USACE cancelled the initial solicitation, which it had published in May, because the two responses it received were far higher — by approximately $8 million and $13 million — than the amount the agency had expected.
On Oct. 23, Trisston Brown, chief of the USACE’s Florida Projects Section in Jacksonville, told The Sarasota News Leader that the latest schedule for the new advertisement for bids calls for the package to be published in December. Then, the USACE would receive proposals in January 2020 and award a contract in February 2020, Brown added.