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Longboat Key Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 3 years ago

Lido, Siesta residents want their voices heard

by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

At a meeting Friday, Lido Key residents wondered what they had to do to get the spotlight shone on them.

During an informational session with the Army Corps of Engineers, Lido Key residents stressed the importance of a proposed Lido Beach renourishment project.

Beyond that, they began to consider how to better communicate their feelings on the project, which would be a joint effort between the Army Corps and the city of Sarasota, to the general public and local officials.

Residents were concerned about detractors of the project on Siesta Key drowning out supporters of the project on Lido. The meeting came the morning after a contentious Siesta Key Association meeting with the Army Corps, during which Siesta residents aired a series of concerns about the potential impact of the project.

The proposed project would renourish the Lido shoreline, which the state has evaluated as critically eroded, with sand taken from Big Pass, which has not been dredged before. Army Corps representatives said models showed negligible effects on Siesta Key as a result of the proposed dredging, but several Siesta residents said they believed the project is far riskier than engineers say.

John Lambert, a member of the Lido Key Residents Association board, said a compelling argument in support of the project could be made about the economic impact of Lido Beach. If the beach continued to erode, Lambert said, the tourism revenue derived from the area would quickly dissipate.

“Tourist development shows Lido Key as a beach to come to,” Lambert said. “What are people going to come to, rocks? Ben Franklin Drive?”

Another resident suggested hiring a public-relations specialist to provide outreach on Lido Key’s behalf. Lido Key Residents Association President Carl Shoffstall said the association’s board would consider the idea. At the very least, he said, the group had to ramp up its communication efforts.

Board members have met with individual Sarasota County commissioners to communicate their support for the proposed beach renourishment. Lambert said attendees at Friday’s meeting should email the commission with messages backing the project, as well.

The proposed project is still in its planning stages, and it will be more than a year at the earliest before federal funding for the renourishment efforts can be secured, according to Army Corps Project Manager Milan Mora. Still, Lido residents said they have to coordinate their outreach strategy now to get the project off the ground.

“We’re going to have to get a game plan going here,” Shoffstall said.

Siesta Key residents sound off Before the Dec. 5 Siesta Key Association meeting with the Army Corps, President Catherine Luckner said she hoped the meeting would be an opportunity for residents to get involved in the conversation surrounding a proposed project that would dredge Big Pass.

At the meeting, residents did get involved with the conversation — often talking over representatives from the Army Corps and the city of Sarasota to voice their concerns about the proposal.

The meeting crystalized the unease many Siesta Key residents have with the proposed project.

Several residents said they were upset the project had progressed to the point it has without any public hearing or peer review of the Army Corps’ information. Mora stressed that the proposal had not been finalized, and once it was submitted, the process of getting the state to approve it would take about a year.

“It’s not a plan that’s set in stone,” Mora said. “It could definitely change. It’s an early start to the process.”

Mora said the full projected impact of the project on Siesta Key wouldn’t be known until February, when a feasibility study will be finished. Still, he said a study from 2004 forecasted a minimal impact for the project, and the proposal was in keeping with a county-approved inlet management plan.

Many residents were not satisfied with that response. One of the most outspoken audience members at the meeting was Cynthia Scheider, a resident who lives off Big Pass. She was worried about the effect the project would have on her own home, but she said her greater concern was about any potential impact on Siesta Beach.

Despite what the Army Corps was saying, she believed its engineers didn’t truly understand the dynamics of the area.

“It looks great on a computer, but they don’t know what damage they’re going to do,” Scheider said. “They shouldn’t do it.”

Mora said he felt the meeting went pretty well, and he said the Army Corps would continue to be in communication with Sarasota citizens. He said he understood the concerns of Siesta Key residents, but that dredging Big Pass was the most feasible option for renourishing Lido Key.

“It’s a hard process,” Mora said. “If there were sand offshore that I could use, then I would not be here.”
Luckner said the meeting was more contentious than it ideally could have been. Now that people have been engaged, she said, she hopes future conversations surrounding the project will be more productive in addressing the concerns of Siesta Key residents.

“When people are afraid, they get mad, that’s pretty natural,” Luckner said. “What I’m hoping now is that energy will now be directed into some of the efforts that it takes to get to where we want to go.”

Contact David Conway at [email protected]



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