By Rachel Brown Hackney
If all goes as planned, in a little more than four years, residents on the southern portion of Siesta Key will be seeing trucks hauling sand to the shoreline to fill in areas eroded by a hurricane in the late summer of 2017.
On June 3, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously authorized such an initiative, with most of the funding to come from the federal government.
A June 3 staff memo did point out that the undertaking “will result in disruption of the Turtle Beach Park for a period of about a month in the November-December 2024 timeframe.”
Not long after Sarasota County completed its second renourishment of the south Siesta Key shoreline, Hurricane Hermine swept through the area, chewing away chunks of that new sand, Rachel Herman, manager of the county’s Environmental Protection Division, pointed out to the County Commission on June 3.
As a result, a “scalloping” effect is visible in aerial photos of the project area, which includes both Turtle Beach Park and Turtle Beach Campground and extends south to Palmer Point Park, Herman said; she showed the board members slides to illustrate her comments.
The truck haul project was proposed because the mobilization expense to pursue offshore dredging of the estimated 92,505 cubic yards of sand “is considered to be unreasonable,” compared to the cost of equipment mobilization for a full renourishment project, a county document in the June 3 agenda packet explained.
“Turtle Beach was last re-nourished to its full template beach design between March 9, 2016 and April 26, 2016,” the document noted.
The first nourishment of the shoreline was completed in 2006, Herman noted.
In 2016, about 2.1 miles of shoreline was restored with sand from three borrow areas that were approximately 8 to 10 miles offshore, a county document said. The total quantity of new sand was 713,563 cubic yards.
Then, between Aug. 31, 2016 and Sept. 11, 2016, the document added, “Hurricane Hermine generated hurricane strength storm water surges, wave action and destructive currents, which caused beach erosion damage in Sarasota County … A major disaster … was declared on September 28, 2016.”
On Dec. 28, 2017, Herman told the commissioners, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the county a grant to replace sand lost to the storm.
In March 2017, Herman told the commissioners, FEMA staff originally decided to defer the repair of the Hermine damage until the county’s next planned South Siesta Key Beach Renourishment Project, which was set for 2026. Herman said FEMA more recently proposed the truck-haul project as an interim measure to restore the shoreline. That way, she pointed out, the agency could go ahead and reimburse the county and close out the paperwork on the initiative.
A June 3 staff memo explained that the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), “the pass-through state agency,” granted a time extension until Sept. 28, 2020, for the allocation of the FEMA funds. That was the longest the state agency could wait, based on the authority it has, the memo added. “This was done with the understanding that a second Time Extension would be required to defer the project until the estimated timeframe of the next planned nourishment in 2026.”
After staff filed the second time extension request, the memo continued, “FDEM and FEMA notified staff via email and then a conference call in November 2019 that, instead of deferring storm damage repair until 2026, Sarasota County should consider an interim project using sand transported by dump trucks from an inland sand mine …”
The estimated cost of the South Siesta project would be $6,300,300, Herman noted during her June 3 presentation. The county would be responsible for 12.5% of the total, which is expected to be $787,537, according to another slide she showed the commissioners.
If the county went ahead and pursued the truck haul project, Herman explained, that could delay the next overall restoration of the area to 2028 and give the county’s beach renourishment fund an opportunity to build back up.
Herman told the commissioners that, with their concurrence, staff would plan on the truck haul project on south Siesta in the 2024 fiscal year, which will start on Oct. 1, 2023. In other words, she said, “It’s still not going to happen tomorrow.”
The staff memo also noted, “The south end of the project area would be the focus of this interim project as it has been the area of the greatest losses of sand both from the Hurricane Hermine disaster [and gradual erosion].”
“Reimbursements from FEMA are anticipated after completion of major milestones of the project (design, construction, post-construction, monitoring),” another of Herman’s slides said. The first money coming into the county would be expected in the 2022 or 2023 fiscal year, Herman added.
Board approval and caution
Commissioner Alan Maio made the motion to approve staff’s recommendation, which was to authorize County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, or Lewis’ designee, to notify FEMA of the county’s intent to proceed with developing a scope of work for the truck-haul project and revising estimates of the sand replacement.
Commissioner Charles Hines seconded the motion.
“Once again, staff has really done an excellent job,” Maio said.
“This is a lesson for all of us that this will never end,” Maio added of the need to keep restoring the beach for tourism and recreational benefits.
Hines also stressed, “Communication on this one’s going to be huge,” so members of the public will understand why the county will have trucks bringing in new sand. He told Herman that staff would have to ensure that such outreach takes place.
“Yes, sir,” she replied.
“Just absolutely great example of leveraging the local taxpayer dollars” to obtain the majority of the funding from the state and federal governments, Chair Michael Moran said before the vote.