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Siesta Key Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 2 months ago

City, Siesta remain at odds on Big Pass

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The city is trying to establish an insurance policy to convince Siesta Key residents to support the dredging of Big Pass, but Siesta is still calling for county intervention.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

As the city and Siesta Key residents clash over a proposal to renourish Lido Key and dredge Big Pass, the two sides can’t even agree on why they haven’t met with one another.

City Manager Tom Barwin and the Siesta Key Association have accused the other of declining to meet to talk about the proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers renourishment project. Barwin said he repeatedly reached out to Siesta groups to discuss the project.

“I’ve asked on several occasions to be invited to speak,” Barwin said. “I can tell you unequivocally, to the best of my knowledge, that has not happened.”

Siesta Key Association board member Catherine Luckner said Barwin did contact her to say he was willing to meet in December, but that he put the onus on the resident group to organize any get-together. When the group wrote that it looked forward to meeting with city officials in a January complaint regarding the FDEP decision, the city never responded, SKA Director Harold Ashby said.

“No reachout has been received by anybody,” Luckner said.

Barwin, for his part, said he did not receive a copy of the SKA complaint. The back-and-forth is a microcosm of the discord surrounding the Big Pass dredging proposal.

The city is making overtures to Siesta residents, who say the dredging project could negatively impact the shoreline of the barrier island. Big Pass has never been dredged.

On Tuesday, the City Commission will consider setting up a $2.5 million insurance fund to mitigate any effects the project may have on Siesta. The resolution would commit the use of city tourist development tax money for the insurance fund.

“That should provide the assurances to Siesta Key — that we’ll have an assurance that nothing adverse would happen,” Barwin said.

SKA leaders, meanwhile, are trying to convince county officials they have the authority to intervene in the proposed dredging. On Feb. 7, Luckner told the County Commission that SKA believes a portion of the dredge area is in county jurisdiction. The group said the county comprehensive plan prevents the state from approving the dredge without county consent.

Luckner expressed optimism that county officials would be more willing to intervene following that meeting. The county’s stance on the project has not changed since declining to challenge the FDEP decision last month, a spokesman said.

Luckner pointed out that, absent any challenge from Siesta residents, the city and Army Corps would still be waiting on federal funding. Still, city officials want to avoid prolonging any portion of the project — although Barwin is skeptical the two sides can come to an understanding.

“So far, we haven’t been able to break through and have conversations,” Barwin said. “At this point, that may have to be resolved with the lawyers.”

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