SKA leaders again cite lack of FDEP transparency ahead of Lido Key groin construction

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By Rachel Brown Hackney

After the placement of new sand on Lido Key Beach has been completed, the construction of two groins on the southern end of the island will get underway, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) spokesman has told the SNL.

That part of the project could begin in December, David Ruderman wrote in an email. “They expect to be done working on the beach in April [2021],” he added of Earth Tech Enterprises of Fort Myers, a subcontractor hired by Cottrell Contracting Corp. of Chesapeake, Va., which won the USACE bid for the Lido undertaking.

“But they build a little extra time into the schedule for flexibility,” Ruderman said of the timeline.

“As we all know,” Ruderman added, “these dates are provisional due to possible impacts of unforeseeable weather, equipment and personnel issues.”

Ruderman’s comments came before Tropical Storm Eta halted the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project for approximately a week.

In anticipation of the groin work, Siesta Key Association leaders sent a letter on Oct. 7 to Gregory Garis, administrator of the Beaches, Inlets and Ports Program of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

SKA President Catherine Luckner and her husband, Robert, a director of the nonprofit, reminded Garis that they also had contacted him in June. They again noted the insufficiency of USACE documentation regarding the construction of the groins, which are designed to try to hold sand in place on the beach between subsequent renourishment initiatives.

The FDEP permit issued in June 2018 to the USACE and the City of Sarasota for the work on Lido “lists a number of responsibilities for the contractor” in regard to the groins phase of the undertaking, the Luckners pointed out.

As a result, the Luckners noted, the SKA is concerned about several issues, including the lack of a traffic management plan involving “the delivery of the hundreds of large granite blocks [that] are needed and promised in the Environmental Protection Plan”; the “heavy truck traffic [that] will impact the roads” on Lido Key and St. Armands Key during tourist season; and traffic on the beach to haul the “marine mattresses” and armor stones that will be used in the groins.

A 2006 USACE article written by Steven A. Hughes describes the marine mattresses used in groin construction as rock-filled containers made of “high-strength geogrid … Geogrid panels are laced together to form mattress-shaped baskets that are filled with small stones …”

The article explains that the typical width of a single marine mattress is about 5 feet. The length can vary up to “a recommended maximum of 35 feet,” the article adds. Mattress thickness “for heavy-duty applications exposed to waves and currents” can be up to 24 inches, it notes. “Assuming the stone fill has a volumetric weight of about 110 [pounds per cubic foot], a 35-ft-long, 5-ft-wide, 1-ft-thick mattress weighs approximately 9.6 tons,” the article notes.

Drilling down into the permit specifications

In their letter to Garis, the Luckners pointed to Specific Condition No. 5 in the revised FDEP permit for the project issued on April 10. That says, “For each construction event under this permit, no work shall commence until the Permittee [the USACE] has satisfactorily submitted all information specified in this condition. At least 30 days prior to the commencement of construction, the Permittee shall submit [a list of required] items for review by the Department. Unless otherwise notified by the Department within 15 days of receipt of all information specified … the Permittee shall assume the submittals are satisfactory …”
Among the required items are the following [FDEP emphasis]: “An electronic copy of detailed final construction plans and specifications for all activities to be conducted under the upcoming event.”

The Luckners added, with their own emphasis, “FDEP must require submittal of a groin construction plan, review it and take no exception to the plan. FEDP should also post it for public reference as a preconstruction submittal.”

On Oct. 21, Robert Luckner notified the SNL that the SKA had received a response from Garis.

“The construction of these groins is authorized by Joint Coastal Permit No. 0333315-003-JN,” Garis wrote. “The most recent permit drawings for the groins can be found in the plans and specifications submitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the pre-construction submittals,” Garis added, including a link to those materials.

That link provided the engineering drawings that the USACE included in its December 2019 solicitation for bids for the Lido Key Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project. Among them are detailed plans for the two groins.

Garis continued, “The Joint Coastal Permit does not regulate traffic plans for delivery of material to the site. That is usually handled by the Local Sponsor of the project.” The City of Sarasota is that sponsor.

The SNL did send an inquiry to FDEP’s public information staff about the SKA’s concerns, Alexandra Kuchta, the department’s deputy press secretary, replied in an email.

“The contractor has provided all required documents for commencement of construction, as required by the permit,” Kuchta wrote. “This includes permit drawings for the groins, which are accessible via the department’s public database,” she added.

After the SNL shared those comments with the Luckners, Robert Luckner responded in an email: “While SKA … believes [FDEP staff] should have required a review of the detailed construction plan for the groins [FDEP has] a different and controlling conclusion.”

Luckner added, “The bid proposal filed with the FDEP,” which included the preconstruction documents, “required a final design 45 days before start of construction including a schedule. That was what SKA asked to be reviewed by FDEP. It also required a Critical Lift Plan for the 10 ton foundation mattresses on the beach be submitted to the Corps. My work history is that is a big deal and not something to be taken lightly especially on soft sand.”

Siesta Sand
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