It was always the town’s intent to build two sand-holding groin structures on the north end of the Key.
That’s why the settlement the town reached last month with Joe McClash and the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club is advantageous, according to town officials.
As part of the settlement, the town agreed not to build a long terminal groin made out of rocks that would have attached to Beer Can Island and jutted out into Longboat Pass.
In return, McClash and the Sierra Club won’t object to the town’s plan to permit two permeable adjustable groins made out of concrete near Longbeach and 360 North condominiums.
And that’s what the town planned to build all along.
When town staff began the permitting process more than two years ago, the Department of Environmental Protection’s stance was that the town had to build the terminal groin on Beer Can Island along with the other two groins.
But neither town staff, nor the Longboat Key Town Commission wanted to build the third groin. That’s because Beer Can Island is a swatch of sand owned by Manatee County that is constantly gaining or losing sand because of currents in the area.
In a Sept. 24, 2012 presentation to the commission, Bullock presented commissioners with several options for the eroded north end, noting at the time that it would cost approximately $6.2 million to construct all three groins and place sand in the area.
“At the time DEP wanted all three groins,” Bullock said. “But commissioners expressed to town staff they wanted to separate the two permeable adjustable groins from the terminal groin if it was possible to do so.”
So, town staff worked with DEP officials, who eventually reached the conclusion the town could permit the two groins on town property first and would have the option to build the terminal groin near the pass if needed at a later time.
Now, the option for the third groin in the pass has been removed from the permit language, per the settlement agreement. And that’s fine with Bullock and Public Works Director Juan Florensa.
“It turns out McClash and the Sierra Club didn’t want that third groin and neither did the commission,” Bullock said. “We took the settlement because it meets the primary objectives of our beach management plan.”
“The two groins protect the homes and infrastructure on the north end and that was the commission’s intention all along,” Florensa said. “The town got what it wanted, which was to build two groins without the objections and not to build the terminal groin.”
Bullock and Florensa showed the Longboat Observer several slides last week that displayed how Beer Can Island and the area north of 360 North condominiums has grown smaller and wider with the tides and currents since 1948 and has had more than one pass on the north end on more than one occasion.
“That area of sand is going to continue to change no matter what we do to it,” Bullock said.
Town staff received an intent to issue a permit for the two groins two weeks ago, and all eyes are now focused on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permit, which would allow the town to bid the project and build the groins.
Commissioner Jack Duncan, who is also the president of Manasota League of Cities, is in Washington, D.C., this week on Manasota League business. While he’s there, Duncan will also hold a meeting with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, to discuss, among other things, the issuance of the federal groin permit.
“We believe everything is in place for the federal permit,” Bullock said.
After the town receives the permit some time in the next six months, Bullock and Florensa said the town will put a beach project out to bid.
That project, they hope, will coincide with a project Manatee County hopes to perform next year that will dredge the navigational channel in Longboat Pass on an as-needed basis. The county and the town have agreed to jointly apply for the multi-year permit. The agreement also allows the town to take dredged sand from the pass for placement on the north end.
Ideally, if the town receives the groin permit in the next six months, the town could bid the project by the end of the year and start construction on the groins in summer 2015. Taxpayers have already approved a beach project with a cost of up to $16 million.
The project could also include placement of sand in other high-erosion areas near the two mobile home parks mid-Key and near Privateer South.
Waiting for sand and erosion control structures for yet another year and praying for no storms through another hurricane season, though, is not a comfort to residents of Longbeach and 360 North condominiums.
“We’re one storm away from losing buildings,” said Longbeach President Bob Appel.
Florensa and Bullock recently met with Longbeach residents to address their concerns.
The condominium has hired a beach engineer and is considering extending its seawall further south to protect the Periwinkle building from Gulf waters that are inching closer to the structure.
360 North currently has no seawall, and a seawall in front of its buildings could also provide protection.
“We will do everything in our power to help assist those residents as we work toward a permanent solution for the north end,” Bullock said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]