An administrative hearing on a challenge to the proposed dredging of Big Pass is delayed at least eight weeks, heightening anxiety among Lido Key residents eager to move ahead with a shoreline renourishment project.
On Friday, Judge Bram Canter approved the delay. The hearing was originally set to begin Aug. 22, but the Florida Department of Environmental Protection requested the delay to give its attorney time to recover from surgery.
Three organizations — the Siesta Key Association, Save our Siesta Sands 2 and the Florida Wildlife Association — are challenging the DEP’s decision to issue a permit for the proposed Big Pass dredge. The city of Sarasota and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to use up to 1.3 million cubic yards of sand to renourish the Lido Key shoreline.
The proposed use of sand from Big Pass, which has never been dredged before, has drawn fierce opposition from Siesta residents who fear the project could negatively affect their shoreline.
Canter ordered the parties involved in the case to provide a list of dates they have available for a rescheduled hearing by Aug. 18.
Because the delay doesn’t pertain to the facts of the project, City Engineer Alex DavisShaw said little has changed from the city’s perspective.
“Economically, working with the Army Corps is the best option for the city,” DavisShaw said.
For Lido residents, the delay just adds more waiting time to an already lengthy process. The Army Corps made its initial public presentation of the dredging plans nearly 3 years ago. Because the project is designed to restore critically eroded portions of Lido’s shoreline, residents are pushing for forward momentum.
“It’s very disappointing, to say the least,” said Carl Shoffstall, president of the Lido Key Residents Association.
As Lido residents wait for the dredging hearing, they’re asking the city to explore short-term options for protecting properties near the water on the barrier island. DavisShaw said the city is working with residents on plans to protect against flooding and storms using sandbags.
Catherine Luckner, a Siesta Key Association board member, said the delay has no real impact on the timing of the project. In requesting the delay, the DEP acknowledged the date of the hearing "may not make a difference" regarding when the project begins.
Luckner has repeatedly said Siesta residents’ objections to the dredging have not delayed the project, because there is no federal funding in place to begin work.
“It doesn’t have an adverse effect on Lido because of the budget issues,” Luckner said.
However, DavisShaw said the prolonged challenge to the permit will make it more difficult for the city and Army Corps to secure federal funding.
“Obviously, having a permit in hand makes it easier to get funding than not having a permit in hand,” DavisShaw said.
Luckner held out hope that, during the appeal process, the city, Army Corps and DEP would adjust aspects of the dredging permit application to minimize alleged threats to Siesta Key.
“We're hoping that the process of asking questions and giving documentation may have opened up some other avenues of action for them," Luckner said.
According to DavisShaw, though, city staff has seen little reason to veer from its proposed dredging plans.
Staff writer Cassidy Alexander contributed reporting.