The sand recently delivered to Lido Key for beach renourishment is too riddled with shells, an expert says. (photo by Robert Young)
By Rachel Brown Hackney
The director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, recently published a report criticizing the quality of sand on the renourished Lido Key Beach.
The title of Robert Young’s Jan. 27 LinkedIn article is “This beach will cut your foot!”
In his opening, Young pointed out that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was working on plans for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project, its staff members “rejected an offshore borrow area because they determined that the material would not be compatible with the native beach sand nor meet state of Florida guidelines for beach quality sand.
“Instead,” Young continued, “the Corps, along with the city of Sarasota, targeted nearby sand shoals within Big Pass, an inlet separating Lido and Siesta keys. Big Pass had never previously been dredged or manipulated — a rarity these days.
“The sand was closer and cheaper. Bingo!”
On Jan. 27, he wrote, he had his first opportunity “to see the high-quality material that the Corps, the city and the Lido residents were after.”
He provided a series of photos to illustrate his contention that “a significant portion of the beach is shell hash.”
“In my opinion,” he continued, “this material doesn’t come close to matching the native beach sand in this part of the Florida Gulf Coast. You can’t even walk barefoot on much of it.”
The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines is a “joint Duke University/Western Carolina University venture,” the program website explains. “The primary mission of PSDS is to conduct scientific research into coastal processes and to translate that science into management and policy recommendations through a variety of professional and public outreach mechanisms,” the website adds. “The program specializes in evaluating the design and implementation of coastal engineering projects.”
Altogether, a corps spokesman said, 683,084 cubic yards of sand was removed from borrow areas in Big Sarasota Pass for placement on Lido Key, which state environmental leaders had called “critically eroded.” The state permit for the project allowed up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand to be dredged from the pass. However, the solicitation that the Corps published in December 2019 for the undertaking placed the expected total at 710,000 cubic yards.
In his article, Young did provide what he called “full disclosure” about having served as a witness in a state proceeding in December 2017, in which leaders of two Siesta Key organizations sought to prevent the use of Big Pass as the sand source for the Lido project. During that Division of Administrative Hearings proceeding, the Siesta Key Association and Save Our Siesta Sand 2 sought to prevent the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from issuing the permit to the Corps and the city of Sarasota for the Lido initiative. The city is the local sponsor of the renourishment project.
Young noted in his Jan. 27 article that the administrative law judge ruled for the Corps and the city, but Young also pointed out that FDEP “vigorously defends all permits they issue and believe me, they issue permits for all the applications they get.”
Young further acknowledged, “I imagine that if you are a condo owner, you are more than happy to have a wide, flat beach in front of your investment. The waves are no longer lapping up against the bulkheads as they once were. And, if you don’t look too closely,” Young continued, “the beach doesn’t look too bad.”
Nonetheless, Young wrote, “The beach is bad. It is much coarser than promised. … With everyone, everywhere building beaches these days, poor sediment quality is becoming an important issue. We need better post-project assessments to see how the design predicted the outcome.”
In response to a request for comments from the city of Sarasota about the sand quality, City Engineer Alexandrea DavisShaw wrote in a Feb. 1 email, “The location where the dredging started, at the east segment of the borrow area, had material that was more shelly than the area on the west side section of the borrow area. In addition, the contractor found many tires in the eastern area, which they removed, helping to clean that area up.”
DavisShaw then pointed out, “The Army Corps did a site visit last week and collected post-construction samples. Jen Coor, a Corps geologist, said that she was “very happy” with the material and will proceed with the permit required sieving and analysis. Once that is done, we should be able to give you more detail of the composition of the material.”
On Feb. 1, Carl Shoffstall, the long-time president of the Lido Key Residents Association, said of the shell situation, “We are OK with it. Nobody out here is very upset.”
He stressed, as he has in the past, “We needed the sand,” as erosion posed a serious threat to property owners.
In remarks similar to those of DavisShaw, Shoffstall noted that the sand that came from further out in Big Pass was of a higher quality.
He further emphasized, as DavisShaw had, that “We did clear out a lot of rubber tires,” which apparently had been deposited in the pass years ago in an attempt to form an artificial reef. Those were “not environmentally friendly,” he pointed out.
In a Feb. 1 email, Corps spokesman David Ruderman wrote, “Beach placement material is strictly controlled for quality and shell size, [and] the Corps monitors the contractor’s oversight and collects and assesses samples throughout the course of the beach nourishment to ensure compliance with requirements, all of which were met at Lido Key. The anecdotal comments I’ve heard throughout the project have been that the sand quality is terrific.”