Opposition to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to mine the Big Pass shoal for Lido Beach is gathering momentum on Siesta Key, provoking a push to resurrect a grassroots movement that successfully blocked a 1992 grab for Big Pass sand.
On Dec. 3, someone created a Facebook page dedicated to opposing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to mine the Big Pass shoal. Its title — “Save Our Siesta Sand 2” — references a 1992 movement on the Key called Save Our Sand, which derailed an effort to take sand from Big Pass to renourish Venice Beach.
The original Save Our Sand movement’s tactics ranged from forming human chains along Siesta Beach to litigation to stall and eventually block the dredging project. Big Pass has never been dredged, and Venice Beach was eventually renourished using offshore sand sources.
The creator of “Save Our Siesta Sand 2” remains anonymous, despite listing the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce’s website as the group’s contact information. The chamber was caught off guard by the page and disavowed all knowledge of or connection to the group.
The Facebook page, which has 64 likes, still remains relatively obscure. When brought to the attention of many of Siesta Key’s neighborhood and business groups, it caught them by surprise. But Siesta leaders say a move to consolidate the Key’s opposition to the dredge under one banner was likely imminent.
“I’m not aware of anyone on our board involved with Save Our Siesta Sand 2,” said Catherine Luckner, president of the Siesta Key Association. “But something like this is inevitable.”
“I totally expect that to happen,” said Lourdes Ramirez, a candidate for the Sarasota County Commission’s District 2 seat, referring to the likely emergence of a unified anti-dredge group. Ramirez, who is also the former president of the Siesta Key Association, said she had no knowledge who was behind Save Our Siesta Sands 2.
Multiple Siesta Key groups have released statements formally opposing the dredge, including the Siesta Key Association, the Siesta Key Village Association, the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce. Even County Commissioner Nora Patterson (who represents Siesta Key’s District 2) has openly expressed her doubts about the Army Corps’ plans.
There has not yet been an overt move to unify these disparate opposition parties into one movement, however, leaving some to question whether an organization based on the Save Our Sand model would be as applicable to the current dredging proposal.
One key difference is that the 1992 proposal was in the hands of the Sarasota County Commission, which was ultimately swayed to use other sand sources for Venice Beach when Save Our Sands threatened litigation.
The current move to mine Big Pass is largely out of the hands of the County Commission, however, with the commission’s leverage largely limited to one of the project’s proposed erosion-control groins, which may or may not be scheduled for construction on county land (details are still murky about the exact location of one of the project’s three groins and whether it will fall within a county park). Lido Beach condominium owners and the city of Sarasota back the dredging.
The current fight against dredging Big Pass pits Siesta residents against the Army Corps of Engineers, with concerns about the navigability of Big Pass on par with the health of Siesta Beaches.
“Some of the bigger boats won’t even attempt the pass right now,” said Spencer Dunford, general manager of Hidden Harbor Marina, “They go all the way to Venice.”
Asked if the original Save Our Sand movement had an influence on the current opposition to the Big Pass dredge proposal, Luckner said, “Yes, definitely — because it worked.”
Although Luckner agreed that the emergence of a unified anti-dredge group was inevitable, she said the collective voice of Siesta Key’s various neighborhood and business groups, which have come out in opposition to the dredge, would have more weight if they were not limited to one organization.
“I think having multiple voices coming from similar but varied circumstances is more impactful and carries more weight,” Luckner said. “If you’re not just one group, you’re not so easily discounted. You have more credibility.”
Just say no
These organizations have formally come out against dredging Big Pass.
• Siesta Key Association
• Siesta Key Village Association
• Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce
• Siesta Key Condominium Council
County Commissioner Nora Patterson, representing District 2 (Siesta Key)
Contact Nolan Peterson at email@example.com