Plans to dredge Big Pass have run aground. Sarasota County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are deadlocked on whether groins should be included in the project’s plans — the Army Corps wants them, the county doesn’t.
“It is unfortunate that the Army Corps proposed the groins, and the city did as well,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson at a Monday board meeting of the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND). “The county will not support a proposal with groins.”
|Milan Mora, project manager of the Lido Key beach renourishment project, represented the Army Corps at Monday’s meeting. Officials from Manatee, Charlotte and Lee counties were also present. Mora said the proposal includes three erosion-control jetties, known as groins, at the southern stretch of Lido Key.
The groins are intended to slow the southern drift of beach sediment. The groins will extend the Lido Beach renourishment cycle from three years to more than five years, Mora said, saving the county millions of dollars in the long run. Lido Beach has been renourished five times since 1997.
“The groins are about long-term sustainability,” Mora said. “The Army Corps won’t push something unless the cost-to-benefit ratio is favorable.”
City estimates put a $22 million price tag on the Big Pass project, with approximately 62% covered by federal funds. The city of Sarasota and the state will be on the hook for the rest, with the city’s contribution drawing on county Tourist Development Tax revenue.
The Army Corps’ decision to include groins in the Big Pass dredging plans stems from an environmental-impact study dating back to 2004, as well as “extensive” predictive modeling, Mora said. The proposed dredging project is meant to harvest sand from the pass to counter erosion at Lido Beach. Dredging could also make the inlet more navigable, Mora added. The Army Corps is also looking at plans to dredge New Pass for Lido sand.
Patterson said concerns about the effects on Siesta Key Beach led to her and the county’s opposition to the groins. Patterson added that sand drifts from north to south on Florida’s west coast, making groins to the north of Siesta Key potentially problematic to the natural renourishment cycle.
This would be the first time Big Pass has been dredged, and the Army Corps, WCIND and Sarasota County are all concerned with how the proposed project will impact the navigability of Big Pass and the health of area beaches — with Siesta Beach most likely to be impacted.
The Army Corps conducted a feasibility study in 2004 on the environmental impacts of a potential Big Pass dredge. The analysis is not yet complete, Mora told the WCIND board Monday, explaining why final plans for the project have yet to be presented. Although the final analysis is not yet complete, Mora said dredging plans will include sediment mining from the outer Big Pass shoal, as well as from the navigation channel.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Mora said. “We have spent a lot of funds mining for sand offshore. So, now we’re looking at Big Pass, but we don’t want to affect the surrounding beaches or the navigability of the pass.”
The Siesta Key Association recently approved a measure to hire an independent coastal engineer to review the Big Pass dredging plans.
If the county and the Army Corps can’t come to a compromise concerning the groins, the feasibility study will have to be redone without factoring in the groins and the project will “go back to square one,” Mora said. “And that means it will take a whole lot longer to renourish Lido.”
Starting in September, the Army Corps and the city of Sarasota will present their proposal to various community groups, including area boating groups and the county’s Coastal Advisory Committee.
The Army Corps and the city will then formally present their plan to the community Dec. 5, with a public meeting scheduled Dec. 7 at Sarasota Yacht Club.
The next public presentation of Big Pass project will be at a Sept. 18 Coastal Advisory Committee meeting at the Sarasota County Administration building.
“If we get a negative result from the community, we’ll have to start over,” Mora said.
Dredging can start only after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approves a permit, Mora said, adding that the required feasibility study is already complete. The permit process is estimated to take two years.
Town requests beach-quality sand
Town Manager Dave Bullock has made it clear the town of Longboat Key is interested in sand that the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) plans on dredging out of the Intracoastal Waterway near Longboat Pass sometime next year.
In an Aug. 16 email to WCIND Executive Director Charles Listowski, Bullock states the town is interested in receiving beach-compatible sand that’s dredged from the boat channel.
Bullock and Public Works Director Juan Florensa attended a WCIND meeting Monday in Venice to officially request some of the sand that’s dredged as part of the project.
At the meeting, Listowski received direction to apply to the state for the dredging project, which could begin late next summer if the project’s permitting process is approved.
The permit will allow WCIND to dredge the channel, while placing sand on the north end of Longboat Key.
WCIND has already received a state permit for a sand trap in Longboat Pass near Jewfish Key. The trap, if it’s installed after WCIND receives a federal permit, would trap between 40,000 and 60,000 cubic yards of sand that’s swept off the north end of the Key and deposited in a large sandbar near Jewfish Key that’s a popular spot for boaters to anchor on the weekends.
WCIND is working on a permit for the sand trap because that same sand also makes its way into the Intracoastal Waterway; it clogs up the boating channel and forces the district to perform expensive dredging projects.
The trap would be installed in a shallow depression in the waterway and intercept sand before it makes its way to the Jewfish Key site.
That project is at least a year away from being built.
— Kurt Schultheis