Siesta Key Round Up

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By Stan Zimmerman

Big Pass ebb shoal eyed

There are a lot of “island myths” up and down the southwest coast of Florida. One concerns pirate José Gaspar and his island full of captive beauties (named “Captiva” of course). Another is the role of the ebb shoal sandbar north of Big Pass.

The sandbar is created by the outgoing tide, and has waxed and waned over the decades. It has never been dredged. Locals will swear the intact ebb shoal is the reason Siesta Beach has never needed renourishment.

Now the City of Sarasota is eyeing the ebb shoal as a source of new sand for Lido Beach to the north. County officials say there is not enough sand of high quality available anywhere else. The Army Corps of Engineers agrees. Both have been meeting with city officials and residents.

Big Pass has never been dredged for navigation, while New Pass to the north between Lido and Longboat Keys has been dredged frequently. The sand from that activity is normally used to renourish both North and South Lido public beaches. Lido beaches were last renourished in 2009.          

Rough sledding for snowy plovers

It’s no wonder snowy plovers are endangered. They build a primitive nest in the open sand dunes, and often leave their eggs or chicks unattended. Predators from crows to raccoons often get a free lunch.

But it’s been even worse this year. There was a pre-dawn brush fire in late March on the north end of the beach used in the past by nesting plovers. And officials are investigating vandalism in a buffer zone around the nesting area a couple of days before the fire. Stakes and tape were removed that kept beachgoers out of the nesting area.

Last year 12 plover nests were spotted on Siesta Key, but observers from the Sarasota Audubon Society found only one chick made it to adulthood.

Commission defers more beach money

Sarasota County pays for extra beach maintenance with one-fifth of one penny from the five-percent “bed tax” on short term rentals, the so-called Tourist Development Tax. As tourism has increased, so have tax proceeds.

But county commissioners have decided, until staff can untangle the financial books, these extra beach maintenance funds will remain flat. Like many Florida counties in a budget squeeze, many activities are “charged back” to a funding source. When the financial staff looks at beach maintenance, for example, their time is paid from the “beach maintenance account.”

Commissioners were told the loss of the extra funding would cut back on trash pickup, restroom cleaning, less support for events like the Crystal Classic sand sculpture contest, beach volleyball tournaments and other efforts.

County Administrator Randall Reid said he would provide a report on the funding and charge-backs.

Golf carts on M-Pass Road?     

A plan masquerading as reduction in the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road was unmasked by the Sarasota County Commission. In reality it was plot to allow golf carts to on it.

State law forbids golf carts on public roads if the speed limit is higher than 35 miles per hour. The carts still have to be built and approved to road use, with driving and stop lights, turn signals, seat belts, a horn etc. They are touted as the electric vehicle perfect for urban living.

Some members of the Sandeling Club would like to drive to the Crescent Club area, or even into Siesta Village in their carts. But first the speed limit has to come down to 35 from 40 along Midnight Pass Road.

The Traffic Advisory Council approved the move, but county commissioners balked and deferred their decision until May 8. Commissioner Joe Barbetta worried about crashes between autos and carts, or carts and pedestrians on the heavily traveled road. 

The race will go on

The Suncoast Superboat Grand Prix faced dissolution this Spring. The sponsor – Suncoast Charities for Children – couldn’t raise the sanctioning fee of nearly $100,000.

It held a press conference to toss down an ultimatum. If we can’t get the money, we give up. The race will go to another city and we’ll never get it back again. The race began in Sarasota in 1984, and has become a Fourth of July fixture with a parade, fireworks, boat displays, a golf championship and other free and fund-raising events.

The Sarasota County Commission came to the rescue, grudgingly granting $79,200 from tourist development tax revenues. “This is going to be a special exception,” said Commissioner Christine Robinson. “This will certainly not be the rule for this commissioner.”

The charity uses proceeds to build facilities for disabled children. IT rents then to qualified care-givers for $1 per year. This year the event will run form June 29 through the final race on July 7.

Bounced back too far?

For the past several years, rental rates for accommodations slipped lower and lower as hotels motels and even mom-and-pop’s with a spare room struggled to keep “heads in beds.”

In 2012 the rebound began, and room rates began to rise. However a survey my indicates for Siesta Key and Sarasota, the bounce-back has put them near the top of the state in rates.

Key West remained the most expensive place to stay, but Siesta Key ranked number five, and the City of Sarasota came in at number seven. Average rates on Key West were $254 per night, with Siesta coming in a $231 and Sarasota at $229. The survey looked at rates within a mile of a city center or top beach from December 2012 to March 2013.

Marco Island south of Naples came in second in the survey, with room rates in the $242 range. Palm Beach was number three, and Sanibel was number four. At the bottom of the top-20 list was Miami Beach, at $143 per night (equal to a night in Sarasota plus a $90 dinner).

Siesta Sand
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