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Judge dismisses Big Pass lawsuit

On Friday, a circuit court judge dismissed a challenge from the Siesta Key Association regarding the city’s plans to dredge Big Pass.

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  • | 1:16 p.m. October 16, 2018
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At an Oct. 4 Siesta Key Association meeting, board member and Siesta resident Catherine Luckner was optimistic about the group’s latest legal challenge contesting the city’s plans to dredge Big Pass.

Although the city had filed a motion to dismiss the case, Luckner believed the association made a compelling argument that the county needed to review the Lido Key renourishment project before it could move forward. She was confident the city’s motion would be unsuccessful and a circuit court hearing would go forward.

“I believe that we will have the right to be heard,” Luckner said. “I have no reason not to think that.”  

Eight days later, a judge granted the city’s motion, dismissing the Siesta Key Association’s challenge of the dredging.

On Friday, 12th Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh ruled the Siesta Key Association and co-plaintiff David Patton failed to make a case for legal action. The challenge argued the project failed to comply with the city and county comprehensive plans and the state Community Planning Act.

Because the challenge was made using the state’s Environmental Protection Act, the judge said citizens must be seeking to enforce “an environmental law, rule or regulation.” McHugh said a comprehensive plan is a conceptual framework, not a binding law.

“There is little precedent for finding that a comprehensive plan qualifies as a law, rule or regulation,” McHugh wrote.

City Manager Tom Barwin saw the judge’s ruling as a vindication of the city’s right to proceed with the project. The city is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on an effort to take 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, which has never been dredged, to renourish Lido Key.

Although he lamented the ongoing dispute between the city and Siesta residents, he said the city would work hard to ensure the project wouldn’t negatively affect Siesta Key.

“It’s time to move forward,” Barwin said. “We will honor our word and our commitment to monitor very closely.”

Despite the ruling, the Siesta Key Association isn’t giving up. Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, the organization can continue its legal challenge. Luckner said she believed McHugh’s ruling provided clarity on a more effective opportunity to contest the project.

Luckner said the Siesta Key Association has already begun discussing its next steps with its attorney.

“We were really encouraged that her findings left open our challenge, and that she outlined some pretty specific things that she thinks would be successful,” Luckner said.

Earlier this month, another Siesta Key group announced its intent to challenge the project on a federal level. Save Our Siesta Sands 2 is preparing to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the project violates three federal acts.