Turtle Beach repair project begins

Author: Share:

By John Morton

Having been left in the dark by a lack of reply from FEMA regarding its early-March request for a one-year extension on the renourishment of Turtle Beach, Sarasota County acted out of necessity and got the project in motion.
On April 17, the county announced that California-based Ahtna Marine & Construction had been hired as contractor for the work at a not-to-exceed price of $8,284,283.10. Just two days later, the company was staging equipment at the beach with a sand-haul start date targeted for the week of April 24.
Known as the South Siesta Beach Repair Project, the scramble is now on to complete it by FEMA’s June 30 deadline. Originally presented as a project that would bring 100 trucks over Stickney Point Bridge and then down Midnight Pass Road each weekday, an accelerated plan now calls for as many as 130 trucks per day, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from Monday through Saturday (excluding holidays).

Non-construction portions of Turtle Beach will remain open to the public throughout the project.
June 30 is when a $4 million grant from FEMA is set to expire. It notified the county last fall that the completion date was moved up, noting that Sarasota County was the final entity to not take advantage of grant money earmarked to replace sand – in this case along Siesta Key’s Turtle Beach – washed away in 2016 by Hurricane Hermine.
Originally, the county planned to start in March under a 60-day window to be done by May 1, which is the start of sea turtle nesting season. Now, with the new June 30 completion goal in play, nests in the path of the project would be moved if needed.
County officials said such measures were allowed by its permit from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The project entails the delivery and placement of a total of 92,500 cubic yards of sand. It will be spread across a 2.1-mile portion of the south end of Turtle Beach, adding about 10 feet of width. A closed-off work area of 500 feet along the beach will be required, moving along northbound as the project progresses.

Many obstacles, concerns
Delays in permitting and the lack of contractor bids received by the original Feb. 15 deadline put the project behind schedule, prompting in part the request for the delay. Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert, prior to her recent passing, even asked Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott while on a visit to Washington for assistance in getting FEMA to cooperate.
U.S. Rep. Greg Steube also contacted FEMA, but to no avail.
Furthermore, opposition to the massive truck activity during tourist season also concerned county leaders. If a one-year delay had been granted, the plan would have been to start the project in November when the island is less busy and turtle nesting season is done (Oct. 31).
The Siesta Key Association civic group is among those in opposition of the project’s timing, as well as a recent request by the county’s consultant to alter its DEP permit — which was subsequently granted. As a result, the county has added a second 20-foot-wide dune access path for trucks and an additional staging area in the park’s boat ramp parking facility. Currently, about 275 feet at the south part of Turtle Beach has already been set aside as a staging area.
The consultant reassured the state’s EPA that the dune pathways would be stabilized by mats.
Bob Luckner, a board member with the Siesta Key Association, voiced concern to his fellow members that the request could open the door to the doubling of the number of trucks needed to complete the job before the deadline.
Luckner’s group has also voiced concern over the idea that the two beach access points are home to burrows occupied by gopher tortoises — a protected species. Now, those dunes will see 20-ton dump trucks constantly traveling through them.
Luckner has notified many government entities that his group believes a review is in order.
The bottom line is this: The civic group opposes the project’s current form on many fronts.
“The Siesta Key Association supports the general objectives of the South Siesta Key Repair Project but is opposed to doing it now during season. We advocate for doing it on a more paced basis this fall,” Luckner said. “We also object to the proposed permit modification that will double the truck traffic, including 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days per week.”
The county has not said publicly that the truck traffic, while likely seeing in increase, would actually be doubled.
Regarding the lack of bids, moving the solicitation deadline from Feb. 15 to March 1, a second bid did eventually come in. In the end, the two of them were for $8.3 million (the accepted bid) and $8.6 million.
Both of those numbers far surpass the FEMA grant.
With FEMA’s role still in limbo, county commissioners on March 7 were forced to budget about $7.7 million for the project, with a not-to-exceed number of $11 million for the bidder that would be selected. FEMA had pledged to cover 87.5% of the project, with the remaining 12.5% covered by the county’s tourism pot, but uncertainty remains on those numbers now that costs have greatly increased.
Meanwhile, some opponents of the project have also urged the county to use a barge, eliminating the truck traffic, as it did in 2016 when Turtle Beach was renourished just months before Hurricane Hermine arrived.
The county earlier this year said a barge would be too costly at a minimum of $5 million, adding that availability of one could be unlikely.
The 2016 project required one as 713,565 cubic yards of sand were put in place, far more than the 92,500 this time around.
The truck traffic could cause gridlock, be hard on the bridge and roads, and be dangerous for pedestrians, opponents contend.
Other opponents are calling upon the county to dredge nearby Midnight Pass, which was filled-in and has been closed off for 40 years, and use that sand to renourish Turtle Beach. The Midnight Pass topic is one on the front burner for both county and state leaders right now.
The sand being used on the project is coming from an inland sand mine and is EPA approved, consisting of limited silt and shell fragments.

John Morton
Author: John Morton

Previous Article

Ruling a possible blow to hotels?

Next Article

Incorporation bill progresses at state capitol