Because of their failure to negotiate a new fee with the contractor, Sarasota County staff members have decided to hold off on completing the restoration of a section of Palmer Point Park, on the north end of Casey Key.
“Mainly, it’s a budget issue,” Project Manager Paul Semenec said. “We don’t have the money in the budget.”
Staff will discuss the matter with the Sarasota County Commission, he said, to decide how best to proceed. However, Semenec said no timetable had been set for that discussion.
When Siesta Key Association President Catherine Luckner updated her members on the status of the project Feb. 2, she said the park restoration “is now abandoned.”
However, Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who has been a champion of the effort to restore spoil islands in the Intracoastal Waterway, objected to that characterization.
“I looked a little askance when you said, ‘It’s abandoned,’” she told Luckner, “because I don’t think it’s abandoned.”
The Palmer Point Park project has been the first spoil islands project undertaken by the county. A Palmetto-based contractor began working in August to remove the exotic vegetation from an approximately 10-acre area of the park. Most of that vegetation was Australian pine and Brazilian pepper trees, Semenec said.
The material was incinerated on the site, he said, “and, magically, we didn’t get any complaints.”
The second part of the project was designed to remove dredge material from the bay adjacent to the park; those spoils were dumped there when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was creating the Intracoastal Waterway in the 1960s. The goal was to improve the health of the bay, Semenec told the Siesta Key Association in October.
The final part of the project called for the planting of 5,000 red mangroves at the park, to turn it back into a wetlands area.
However, after the incineration effort began, county staff and the contractor heard complaints from two different neighborhood groups about plans to truck that dredge material away from the park.
As a result, the contractor and staff developed a plan to send the material by barge to a Florida Department of Transportation right of way by the north Siesta bridge. There, the material would be offloaded, then transported by truck to the contractor’s headquarters in Palmetto.
Before the work could get under way, though, the contractor sought a higher fee, because of the change in plans.