With the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) potentially only weeks away from applying for permits to dredge Big Pass for Lido Beach sand, some area residents are calling for an independent review of the project, claiming the Corps’ modeling and analysis have not been properly vetted.
During the public comments portion of Tuesday’s joint meeting between the Sarasota County Commission and the Sarasota City Commission, several residents called for more scrutiny of the Corps’ proposal.
“We absolutely need a peer review of this project,” Siesta Key Association Member Peter van Roekens said Tuesday. “We’ve looked at dredging Big Pass before … and the independent consultants all had reasons why it didn’t make sense.”
Jeff Birnbach, Sarasota Bay Watch board member and former commodore of the Sarasota Yacht Club, said the two organizations had yet to take an official position on the Corps’ plans but were pushing for a third-party review of the project.
“To not do so would be a disservice to constituents,” Birnbach said, speaking about the need for an independent consultant.
The proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Big Pass dredging project will mine 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from the outer shoals of Big Pass to use on Lido Beach. The Corps’ plans also call for three erosion-control jetties, known as groins, that will slow the beach’s erosion, and, according to Corps modeling, extend the renourishment cycle from three years to five years, potentially saving millions of dollars over the 50-year lifespan of the project.
Area residents and some county officials are worried about how dredging Big Pass, which has never been done, will affect the navigability of the channel, and how the groins will affect the natural drift of sand down Sarasota’s coast that is vital for the health of Siesta Beaches.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Milan Mora presented the $22.7 million dredging project to the joint city-county meeting Tuesday. Mora said the Corps’ modeling predicted the project would have no adverse effects on either the navigability of Big Pass or have any significant impact on surrounding beaches.
“The groins will add stability to the pass,” Mora said. “They are constructed to anchor the sand template, not to intercept downdrift sand.”
Mora also pushed back against calls for an independent review of the plan, claiming five independent consultants reviewed a 2005 Beach Inlet Management Plan (BIMP) that analyzed the current project’s components.
Rob Patten, the Sarasota County environmental services director at the time of the 2005 BIMP, said Mora’s comments were inaccurate. Patten said the 2005 study was an evaluation of possible strategies to manage sand from area inlets and was never intended to be a specific project plan.
“It is disingenuous and misleading to suggest that the specific groin and dredging plan now being proposed has been vetted by the public and other professionals,” Patten wrote in an email to Sarasota County commissioners following Tuesday’s joint meeting. “It is an artful and slick sleight of hand that is being used to mislead the public and elected officials and to promote this project as a done deal.”
Other county officials also refuted Mora’s comments.
Sarasota County Coastal Resources Manager Laird Wreford said only three firms were paid to independently peer review the 2005 report, contradicting Mora’s statement that five consultants had been tapped for the review.
Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson pointed out significant differences between the Corps’ current plans and what was evaluated in 2005, citing the inclusion of groins in the current plans and a switch from dredging Big Pass along contour lines to a rectangular grid dredging pattern of the pass’s outer shoals.
“Your modeling does not match up with the original peer-reviewed plan,” Patterson said.
The USACE plans will be presented to the public at 5 p.m. Dec. 5, at St. Boniface Episcopal Church, Siesta Key, and at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 6, at the Helmsley Sandscastle, on Lido Key. There will also be a meeting Dec. 7 for area boaters.
One common point of concern among the residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting was the lack of public hearings concerning the project before the USACE begins applying for permits at the end of October or early November.
“I think this needs more public airing,” said Jono Miller, director of environmental studies at New College of Florida.
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]