The Lido Key Residents Association is responding to opposition to a proposed beach renourishment project by focusing on the long view.
Several Siesta Key organizations and residents have declared their opposition to the project, which would renourish Lido Beach with sand from Big Pass, citing fear that Siesta Beach could be negatively affected. The plan, which the city proposed and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers is spearheading, is yet to be submitted for state approval and is years from potentially beginning, but groups have already begun to stake out their positions on the topic.
Lido residents were looking for a way to publicize facts that supported the renourishment last month, but Assistant City Manager Marlon Brown told board member John Kirker to wait for the Army Corps of Engineers to finish a report on the projected impact of the project, currently expected in April.
At that point, Kirker said, the city will begin to advocate more strongly for the project. Kirker agreed that it was best to let the city take the lead on publicizing the renourishment plan.
“This is not the Lido Residents Association’s project,” Kirker said. “We’re going to benefit from working with the city.”
At a meeting Saturday, some Lido residents feared they were falling behind in the realm of public opinion. Mollie Thibodeau pointed to a front-page story in the Sarasota Observer about Siesta Key residents bringing a piano out to Big Pass and playing “Let it Be” to discourage dredging. Thibodeau said if people on Lido weren’t more proactive, the effects could be devastating.
“We have another song that we might need to sing: ‘Nearer, My God to Thee,’” Thibodeau said. “I believe we’re in a Titanic situation here — we are sinking.”
Lido Key Residents Association Secretary Mary Moss said members of the group were diligently working behind the scenes to communicate with commissioners and other involved parties about the proposed project.
Thibodeau said she wasn’t trying to criticize the board’s work, but she wanted to make sure Lido residents were aware of what Siesta Key people were doing.
“Those folks are being proactive in a big way,” Thibodeau said. “This is just something to get people to go, ‘Oh!’”
Kirker said the residents association had been looking at a more proactive approach, meeting with a publicist who works with the Ritz-Carlton to discuss an awareness campaign. Kirker admitted it was hard to stay silent regarding a topic he was passionate about, but that it would ultimately be wiser to exercise restraint.
“It’s tough to bite our tongue,” Kirker said. “When the city tells you they want you to hold up, you can’t jump the gun.”
In the meantime, association Vice President Debbie Comer encouraged Lido residents to put Siesta stakeholders at ease. She said that many people have a strong reaction to hearing the word “dredge” and are unaware of facts surrounding the proposal, including that it would use about 3% of the sand in Big Pass.
“We just want a tiny bit of our sand returned,” Comer said. “Let’s make it a friendly discussion so that everybody wins.”
Two Sarasota County leaders were in attendance at Saturday’s Lido Key Residents Association meeting, and though they agreed Lido Beach needs to be renourished, they also attempted to stay out of the crossfire from Siesta Key.
Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, was the featured speaker at the meeting. Haley said there was no question that Lido Beach needed assistance, but she didn’t want it to potentially come at the expense of Siesta Beach.
“I have two beaches that I love and adore that have to be healthy for tourism,” Haley said. “Like my children, I’m not going to pick favorites.”
Haley suggested that the county bring in Stephen Leatherman as a consultant to evaluate the proposed project. Leatherman is better known as Dr. Beach, the expert who ranked Siesta Beach the No. 1 beach in the country in 2011.
Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson agreed with Haley, but sought a different consultant to judge the potential effects of taking sand from Big Pass. Patterson said the county has previously worked with coastal geologist Richard Davis, and that his input would be valued.
“I’m on your side, but I’m a careful person,” Patterson told the Lido residents.
Contact David Conway at [email protected]