By John Morton
It’s so far, so good for the $8.2 million South Siesta Beach Repair Project, as smooth sailing is the report from Carolyn Eastwood, the director of Sarasota County’s capital projects.
“Everything is moving along as planned,” Eastwood said.
Only one day of bad weather has emerged since the project’s April 24 inception, it coming on Sunday, April 30 as strong winds and waves crashed Turtle Beach, home of the worksite. But Eastwood said no significant sand loss occurred.
Otherwise, as of the middle of May the dumping of about 25,000 cubic yards of sand had occurred on the beach during the first three weeks. At that roughly 8,333 cubic-yards-per-week average, with a June 30 deadline in mind, the pace would bring the total to about 85,000 cubic yards being in place. That’s about 10,000 cubic yards shy of the 95,000 cubic yards needed to facilitate the beach’s needs.
In 2016, a renourishment of the area saw a major setback when Hurricane Hermine washed away a portion of the new sand, necessitating today’s project.
As of now, about 65 trucks continue to make two round trips per day back and forth from a sand mine in Lake Wales, located in central Florida. Hauling is being done 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, excluding holidays. The sand is being placed in a massive pile, hauled to the beach, and then spread throughout a 2-mile stretch. The procedure will add about 10 feet of width to the beach.
Currently, the northern part of Turtle Beach is being topped off, and June will see an emphasis on bolstering the areas to the south of the stockpile where erosion is most significant, Eastwood said. Condos at Fisherman’s Haven along Blind Pass Road are dealing with beach widths as narrow as 5 feet, while homeowners south of that are seeing waves and sand crashing over the top of protective sea walls.
No project-related traffic incidents along Midnight Pass Road have been reported, Eastwood said, but county officials have asked homeowners to keep any service vehicles off the shoulder. Mark Smith, the District 2 county commissioner who resides on Siesta Key, voiced his concern about road safety the day after the project began at an April 25 meeting.
“Midnight Pass is a narrow road, and those 4,600 dump trucks heading down there will be taking up the width of that road,” he said. “This is a bad way to get sand to the beach. Let’s hope to God no one gets hurt.”
Previous renourishment efforts at Turtle Beach utilized a barge, but the smaller amount of sand needed at this moment for the repair didn’t require such firepower, the county determined.
Eastwood also said no sea turtle nests have had to be relocated – something allowed, if necessary, by the permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Both Mote Marine and Audubon Florida are monitoring the turtles and shorebirds, respectively, Eastwood said.
The project was first set to begin in early March with a 60-day window for completion before the start of the sea turtle nesting season on May 1. With construction bids coming in late, the county requested a one-year extension with the idea of beginning in the fall, but never received a response. Eastwood confirmed that is still the case.
FEMA last year moved the project’s deadline up to June 30 after it discovered that Sarasota County was the only region in the country that had yet to use grant money earmarked for beach repair needs resulting from Hurricane Hermine.
Originally, 2026 was the target date and subsequent sand placement may very well be needed in future years — it just may not be covered by FEMA, whose grant total in this case will represent 85% of the cost. The balance will be covered by Sarasota County’s tourism budget.
Still, with the clock ticking, Smith hopes the county will continue to push for extra time.
“I do have a bit of concern that we might miss the deadline if we have bad weather or something along that line. So, I hope the staff is going to pursue the extension from FEMA, because we might need it,” he said at a May 9 commission meeting. “As it stands right now the contractor believes he’ll be on time, but he only has a day or two for a window.”
Overall, the commissioner gave praise for the results to date.
“I’d like to give a shoutout to the staff and to the company with the Turtle Beach renourishment – I have numerous spies in the area that are watching everything, and they report back to me that it’s going smooth and they are very pleased with the progress.
“Good work to all those involved.”