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Siesta Key Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 5 years ago

Conservationists score slight victory

by: Alex Mahadevan News Innovation Editor

Dr. Allan Worms used emotion and some humor in his plea for Sarasota County commissioners to consider an imperiled bird during an Oct. 9 public hearing in Venice.

The snowy plovers are fond of Siesta Key dunes adjacent to the parcel at 636 Beach Road, which has become a major nesting area, Worms explained. The property’s owner asked commissioners for a coastal setback variance for two paved driveways over existing shell surfaces to make pulling in and out of the property easier and safer.

The County Commission voted 3-2 to approve the easement, but amended it to require the pavement be pervious, which is more environmentally compatible.

SKA President Catherine Luckner was unable to attend the meeting, but wrote a letter to commissioners recommending pervious pavement. The letter also requested a conservation easement to allow access to a trail beginning at the petitioner’s property and restriction if nests are discovered between March and September — plover nesting season.

Worms, a Sarasota Audubon Society volunteer representing the Siesta Key Association, asked for the stipulation because it would allow natural water circulation in the soil. That manages runoff, which can lead to erosion in a large enough volume or time periods.

Jeff Steinwachs, who represented the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast as a member of its board of trustees, wanted commissioners to approve a stricter amendment barring the property from being eligible for any further variances. The Conservation Foundation owns — and protects — a parcel of Beach Road property, which covers a majority of the trail for plover-watchers to monitor nesting activity.

Bo Medred presented the case for the variance on the property, owned by Saba Sands LLC, following county staff analysis from Environmental Specialist Howard Berna. Staff concluded that there were no negative environmental effects from the proposal.

Commissioners Jon Thaxton and Joe Barbetta voted against approval of the easement, agreeing that it was inconsistent with the Coastal Setback Code.

Saba Sands now needs Florida Department of Environmental Protection approval for the work, and Medred said he would speak with representatives from the Conservation Foundation through the appropriate means to discuss the use of the trail on its property. The pathway leads to an old wooden staircase at the petitioner’s property.

Snowy plovers nest in low frequencies, and their chicks are vulnerable to predation from gopher tortoises and raccoons. Even the sight of a four-legged animal, such as a dog, can startle the mother to abandon her nest, making volunteer monitoring important for their survival.

There was only one successful snowy plover nest in all of Sarasota County this year, Luckner said in the letter. That was located on land owned by the Conservation Foundation. Other nests were destroyed by inclement weather, such as during Tropical Storm Debby, and others by human feet.

Worms and a friend spotted seagulls disturbing the nest with two chicks earlier this summer. The friend hurled his binoculars at the shorebirds, scaring them away.

“The binoculars did not survive,” Worms said.

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