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Efforts to take sand directly from Siesta Key while avoiding suspicion proved difficult.
Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 3, 2014 3 years ago

County officials investigate guerilla dredging efforts

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Standing in front of dozens of shrink-wrapped bags of white sand, members of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office issued a stern warning at a press conference Tuesday: If you’re caught stealing sand, you will be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Tuesday’s press conference came on the heels of a startling discovery. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a sheriff’s officer stopped an unmarked van on the John Ringling Causeway Bridge. In the back, four Lido Key residents in wetsuits were sitting around buckets of sand, which officials say was traced back to Big Pass on Siesta Key.

The sand-swiping campaign is tied to a city-led proposal that would take sand from Big Pass to renourish critically eroded areas of Lido Beach. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to finalize a study on the projected effects of the dredging of Big Pass, Siesta Key residents and organizations have loudly sounded their opposition to the project, which they say could harm Siesta Beach.

According to the police report, the Lido residents responsible for the heist cited a frustration with the project’s progress as their motive.

“This thing has become a drawn-out nightmare before a study was even finished,” one resident said. “We figured we’ll get our sand faster if we take it ourselves.”

Officers said they had received dozens of reports in the past three weeks of people snorkeling to Siesta Key to take pails of sand from the pass under cover of darkness. Before Tuesday’s bust, however, the Sheriff’s Office was chalking it up as a conspiracy theory. Now, it has vowed to crack down on the beach bandits.

“In Sarasota County, with our pristine beaches, there is no more heinous crime than disrupting the natural state of the shoreline,” a Sheriff’s Office official said.

Under Florida statute 812.014, sand larceny is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The county government has also taken an interest in controlling the situation, forming a “Department of Home-Sand Security” to prevent more sand stealing.

Even if their sand-swiping campaign hadn’t been discovered, Lido residents interested in taking the sand themselves were facing an uphill battle. More than 40 million 5-gallon pails of sand would have been required to transport the 1 million cubic yards recommended by the Army Corps of Engineers. Still, optimism remains.

“We’re not going to let some numbers stop us from preserving our shoreline,” a Lido Key resident said. “Even if they’re really, really big numbers.”

But Siesta Key residents are not content to sit back and let the county attempt to control the situation. On the “Continue to Save Our Sand” Facebook page, Siesta residents are coordinating efforts to descend on Lido Beach and reclaim their sand.

According to a county environmental expert, that effort — which began just last week — has been extremely successful.

“Our estimates show that Big Pass has actually grown since we first received reports of sand-stealing,” the expert said. “There’s more sand there now than ever.”

Contact David Conway at [email protected]

 Hopefully you made it to the end of the article, so we can say, Happy April Fools' Day! This story is not true.

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