Donald Porter has braced himself for what he’ll see when he returns in October to his unit at the Gulf and Bay Club Condominiums.
“Gulf and Bay is very unhappy,” said Porter, speaking about the Beach Road Drainage Improvements Project construction site adjacent to the condominium complex on Siesta Key. “People are going to come back in October and have this massive scar in the ground right off their balconies. Hopefully, it’s a temporary problem, but it’s a big, big mess right now.”
After years of delays, the Beach Road Drainage Project has another hurdle to overcome before completion. Heavy rains in September stalled the approximately $4.5 million project’s progress, leaving the county scrambling for an affordable solution to drain standing water on the construction site and restart the floundering project, which some residents say is an eyesore for one of the area’s top tourist draws.
“We were scheduled to finish by the end of November, but we’ve slipped by at least a month,” said Mike Elfers, Sarasota County construction services manager. “We’re still looking at how we’re going to get the site dewatered.”
The drainage improvements will alleviate flooding on Beach Road and treat runoff from the road and the Siesta Beach parking lot before it drains into the Gulf of Mexico. Rainwater will be collected in a retention pond and pass through ultraviolet (UV) treatment units before being pumped 2,000 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, through an underground pipe.
The project, originally proposed in 2005, was bogged down for years by various issues, including permitting delays, problems with the bidding process and pushback from the nearby Gulf and Bay Condominiums.
Elfers said constant delays gave the project less flexibility to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, like last month’s heavy rainfall.
“If this thing had gone through the procurement pipeline as originally planned, we would have started a few months earlier,” Elfers said. “The end date didn’t change, but there was less time to get it done.”
Porter said Gulf and Bay residents expected the project would be nearer to completion by October.
“This is the No. 1 beach in the world, and it’s a mess right now,” said Porter, who has owned a unit at Gulf and Bay for 15 years. “They chose to do construction in a part of the year when people weren’t around, but it was the rainy season. And now they’re at a standstill.”
The Gulf and Bay Club Condominiums, adjacent to Siesta Beach, overlook land cleared in August for a retention pond and UV light treatment units.
“We have to get rid of the standing water before we can start building the UV treatment system,” Elfers said.
In September, Siesta Key received 11.95 inches of rain, compared with 1.95 inches of rain in September 2012. The heavy rain slowed the pace of construction and left project managers with water to clear before resuming work.
Elfers said the only realistic option to drain the standing water is to treat the accumulated rain on site and then pump it into the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re looking at pumping it offshore, but, first, we have to get rid of sediment and turbidity and meet certain state water standards,” Elfers said.
Elfers said an exact price for the operation has not yet been determined, but he estimates it will be “in the hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
The drainage project’s delay means construction will be ongoing during November’s Siesta Key Crystal Classic sand sculpting competition.
“The event is a big event, and there’s no doubt it will be impacted by the construction,” Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Manager George Tatge said. “It’s a real challenge, but we’re assured by our contractors that we can do this. Although, the event might have to be slightly modified or adjusted to accommodate the construction realities.“
The Crystal Classic, set for Nov. 15 to Nov. 18, draws 30,000 to 50,000 visitors to Siesta Key every year. Siesta business leaders said the event is a valuable opportunity to promote Siesta Key as a tourist destination. They have raised concerns about the potentially negative impression the ongoing drainage project will leave on visitors.
“It’s a mess out here,” Siesta Key Village Association President Cheryl Gaddie said. “Is it going to leave tourists with the best impression? Probably not. But will it keep people away from the beach? No.”
Despite the standing-water dilemma, Crystal Classic organizers and county officials are confident the event will be successful, albeit with some challenges.
“We’ve got plenty of time for the water to drain,” said Brian Wigelsworth, a Crystal Classic organizer.
Tatge added that the drainage project does not include any construction on the beach that could affect the sand-sculpting competition.
“The rain hasn’t made it any easier, but we expect the event to be a success,” Tatge said.
IF YOU GO
Sarasota County Project Manager Alex Boudreau will give a presentation to the Siesta Key Association (SKA) Thursday on the status of the Beach Road Drainage Improvements Project.
SKA will meet at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 3, at St. Boniface Church, 5615 Midnight Pass, Siesta Key.
Residents can call 364-4880 for more information.