By John Morton
The South Siesta Key Beach Repair Project is still targeting a March start, and many of the logistics were shared during a Sarasota County-hosted webinar on Jan. 24 that featured a question-and-answer session.
One detail that is particularly noteworthy is the fact that only a small part of Turtle Beach’s public area will be off-limits as the project occurs.
The endeavor will renourish the south portion of Turtle Beach with more than 92,000 cubic yards of sand during a 60-day work window. It will be delivered from an upland sand mine at an average of 2,000 cubic yards per day by an average of 11 dump trucks per hour per day. The trucking will take place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays only.
The sand will replace much of what was washed away in 2016 by Hurricane Hermine, with the upcoming project expected to add an average width of 10 feet of sand to what currently exists.
A FEMA grant of $4 million expires June 30, but with turtle nesting season beginning May 1 the project is on the fast track.
Robert Neal of Geosyntec Consultants, the firm Sarasota County hired in October to organize and lead the project, explained that trucks will enter the county park at Turtle Beach and drive over the dunes to a staging area toward the south part of the beach that will be 275 feet in length and 30 feet in width. No staging will take place to the south of that area along Blind Pass Road.
Then, each day, up to 500 feet of public beach will be temporarily closed and roped off as the dumping moves northward. The progress is expected to be about 200 feet per day and will go as far north as the sand lasts with that 10-foot average width in mind.
At no time will the public beach be entirely closed, Neal said, and two-way traffic in the parking lot will be the goal. He said trucks will always give the right-off-way to pedestrians.
After the sand is dumped, it must be tilled to minimize it being too compacted for turtle nesting, Neal said. Then it will be smoothed.
Previous renourishment efforts at the location were done by barge, but county officials said during the webinar that doing so this time would cost an estimated $5.7 million – far exceeding the grant.
The Siesta Key Association civic group is among the opponents of the plan, saying that the trucks will lead to increased traffic and danger to pedestrians and bicyclists during the busy spring break time. Also, the wear and tear on roads is a concern, with the trucks traveling over the south bridge and then southbound on Midnight Pass Road to the tune of 100 times per day.
The association sent a letter to the county to ask it to delay the project and reconsider the trucking approach. County commissioner Nancy Detert has also said she plans to speak with federal leaders in Washington, D.C. on the same matter.
The project was originally slated for as far off as 2026, but has been moved up on the calendar several times. Finally, in August, FEMA set the June 30 2023 deadline while noting that Sarasota County was the only community to have yet to use the grant money.
Neal said his firm will be monitoring the traffic flow to see if any adjustments are needed.
“We are not expecting large groupings of trucks. They will be spread out,” he said. “It will not be a stampede.”
In response to another webinar question about potential damage by the project contractor, which was expected to be named sometime in late February, Neal said the firm that’s hired will be responsible for any substantial property damage as part of the terms of the contract. That includes damages to roads, signage, and dunes and/or vegetation at Turtle Beach.
Regarding the sand, it will be different than the tan-colored, coarse sand for which Turtle Beach is known. That combination, according to county Planning Services manager Curtis Smith, is primarily the result of crushed shells. The new sand will be mostly free of shells, as dictated by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, so it will be lighter in color and texture and easy on the feet of beachgoers.
The average grain of sand at Turtle Beach is more than a millimeter in size, Smith added, and the new sand will be smaller in size. This in part helps with turtle nesting, he added.
Smith also explained why the sand at Siesta Key’s Crescent Beach is different, noting the remarkable quartz sand comes mainly through Big Pass to the north and stays put thanks to both the beach’s curved shape and the Point of Rocks barrier to its south. In fact, Crescent Beach has never required a renourishment effort, also in part because it is aligned in somewhat of an east/west fashion and not as subject to wash-away from the strong of Gulf of Mexico currents.
Turtle Beach is aligned more north and south, Smith said, as is thus more susceptible to having its sand move with the waves.
Questions related to the project are still being accepted. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.