For nearly three years, residents in the Siesta Key community of Siesta Isles have known that the county could send a massive amount of storm runoff into the canal that divides their neighborhood.
The runoff was going to be redirected into Siesta Isles to keep the stormwater off Siesta Key Beach.
The beach had been shut down three times since 2004 due to high levels of bacteria in the water from that runoff.
Currently, a retention pond at the south end of the public beach collects storm runoff in a 60-acre area, which includes portions of Beach Road and the public beach parking lot.
When that pond overflows, a drainage ditch carries the untreated water across the beach and into the Gulf. That untreated water is what caused the beach closures in the past.
Wanting to avoid further disruptions to one of the county’s main tourist attractions, county officials received state permission in 2008 to pipe that water into the canal in Siesta Isles.
Ruth Ritenour and her husband, Ray, have lived in Siesta Isles for 47 years. Her home at Cape Leyte Drive and Azure Way is on the canal, where the beach water would discharge.
“We felt it would hurt the water quality,” Ritenour said. “We were afraid with more (water) volume in the canal, our 50-year-old seawall might be undermined.”
The Siesta Isles neighborhood began fighting the county plan, but Ritenour sought more ammunition. She joined the Siesta Key Association to get that organization involved as well.
The SKA was on board.
“We were concerned the county was just shifting the problem from the beach to a neighborhood,” said Lourdes Ramirez, SKA president.
The SKA pushed for a different alternative. The county came up with a proposal to treat the runoff to kill any bacteria and then pipe it under the beach and discharge it 2,000 feet into the Gulf.
The County Commission will hold a public hearing within the next few months on that plan. If approved, the state would also have to sign off before the pipe can be placed.
There is not much difference in price for the project options. An initial estimate put the cost to pipe the water into Siesta Isles at $1.3 million; it would cost $1.5 million to send it into the Gulf.
The county, though, is currently working on a revised estimate.
According to Ramirez, a possible difference of $200,000 shouldn’t dissuade the county because of the tax dollars Siesta Key brings to the county.
“We pay 10% of all the county’s property taxes, but only have 4% of the population,” she said.
From Ritenour’s perspective, it could be much more costly for the county to pump the water into her community.
“If all the canal-front property is ruined, it will lower the property values and lower the tax revenue the county collects,” she said.
Siesta Key Beach has been shut down three times due to high levels of bacteria: April 2004, September 2007 and July 2008.
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