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Big Sarasota Pass
Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 27, 2018 2 years ago

Siesta Key residents await Big Pass ruling

As the city mobilizes for a Lido Key renourishment project, opponents are preparing to make the case the plans violate county regulations.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

So far, a judge hasn’t made a decision on the city’s request to dismiss a complaint attempting to block approved plans to dredge Big Pass and use the sand to renourish Lido Key.

Catherine Luckner, part of the organization that filed the complaint, hopes that’s a good thing.

Luckner is a board member of the Siesta Key Association, a resident group that has expressed concern about how the proposed Big Pass dredge will affect the shorelines to the south.

The Siesta Key Association filed a complaint seeking an injunction and alleging the project violates the county’s comprehensive plan. The city and Army Corps of Engineers plan to take 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, which has never been dredged before, as part of a long-term plan to manage the Lido Key shoreline.

Although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has approved the scope of the project and the county has declined to intervene, Luckner remains optimistic Siesta Key residents will prevail in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court.

“We still feel confident, given what we know about what we’ve asked for and what seems to be supported in everything we’ve read in the law, is that we’ll have the opportunity to be heard by the Board of County Commissioners,” Luckner said.

So far, however, authorities have repeatedly found in favor of the city and Army Corps. In May, responding to another challenge the Siesta Key Association supported, a state administrative judge recommended approving the project. The state issued a permit for the project in June. That same month, the Army Corps allocated $13.5 million in funding for the dredge.

On Sept. 20, the city and Army Corps signed a 50-year agreement outlining the partnership on the Lido renourishment effort. The city is working on a short-term renourishment project using sand from New Pass as it continues to finalize plans for the Big Pass dredge.

“Unless we are legally blocked from proceeding, we remain hopeful by this time next year the beach stabilization will be underway,” City Manager Tom Barwin said.

Barwin said the city has tried to make efforts to assuage the concerns of Siesta Key residents. The project plans include a requirement to monitor the effects of the dredge on the surrounding environment. Barwin said the city hopes to pursue a joint coastal management strategy with nearby local governments.

“We want to continue to learn and collaborate on the very best practices available in the world to preserve our quality of life and fabulous beaches,” Barwin said.

Luckner, however, challenged the suggestion the city has been open to a meaningful dialogue with Siesta Key residents. She said the city has been unwilling to consider adjustments to the scope and site of the dredging project. She also suggested the city was responsible for any delays associated with the ongoing legal challenge, stating the city’s motion to dismiss the complaint was overly long and put off a potential hearing on the merits of the case.

“I wish they had just come to the table and said, ‘Let’s work it out,’” Luckner said. “I don’t know what possessed them to do otherwise.”

As of right now, the county said it does not anticipate any involvement in the project until the city seeks approval to use county land for staging purposes.

Still, Luckner has reached out to the county administration advising that officials should be ready to formally consider whether the plans comply with county regulations.

“We feel they need to be prepared for: What is the process we’ll utilize if the judge is to rule the city must approach the county on things that are covered by county jurisdiction?” Luckner said.

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