As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers once again delayed releasing an environmental impact study of its plans to mine Big Pass for Lido Beach sand, Sarasota County staff is exploring options to independently review the Corps’ findings.
According to Sarasota County Coastal Resources Manager Laird Wreford, the Corps delayed to May the release of its analysis of the potential environmental impacts of mining Big Pass to renourish Lido Beach.
The study was slated for unveiling at the end of April, following months of delay from its originally scheduled December release.
Many prominent Siesta Key business and community associations, area environmental advocates, boating groups, as well as County Commissioner Nora Patterson, who represents Siesta Key’s District 2, have called for an independent peer review of the Corps’ plans.
“I want to hear from somebody other than the Army Corps,” Patterson said at a Siesta Condominium Council meeting in January. “I want this peer-reviewed by someone without their wallets in the game.”
One option being considered, according to Wreford and Visit Sarasota County President Virginia Haley, is an offer by Dr. Stephen Leatherman — "Dr. Beach" — to independently review the Corps’ soon-to-be-released study.
“We thought it would help people be certain that we had eyes on all of this, and we were doing what was best for Lido and Siesta,” Haley said. “If the city and county wanted another set of eyes, he would be available.”
Leatherman — best known for his annual ranking of America’s top beaches — is a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University; he holds a Ph.D. in coastal sciences from the University of Virginia.
Wreford acknowledged Leatherman’s credentials, but said the decision to fund a peer review of the Corps study would be up to the County Commission, and the request would have to be open to bids from other interested, qualified parties.
“I know that he is highly recommended, highly regarded and highly respected,” Wreford said, referring to Leatherman. “But I’m waiting to see what direction I get from my policymakers.”
Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Milan Mora recently pushed back against calls for an independent review of the Corps’ plans, claiming independent consultants had already reviewed a 2005 Beach Inlet Management Plan (BIMP) that analyzed the current project’s components and guided the Corps’ proposal.
Wreford said a final decision on funding a peer review would come after the release of the Corps’ impact study. The Sarasota County Commission is scheduled to discuss the Big Pass dredge June 11.
Contact Nolan Peterson at [email protected]