A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

View from the Mainland

I was there 284 days ago, on September 18th 2013, when the Corps of Engineers showed up at a Sarasota County Coastal Advisory Committee meeting to pitch their hole-in-the-shoal solution to Lido Key erosion. I spoke and objected to both the process and the content of the proposal. I was there on October 22nd when the Corps pitched the idea to a joint meeting of the County and City Commissions and once again I complained. Since then I have appeared on a Tiger Bay panel, posted blog entries, given public presentations, and had a guest column printed in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. My objections have been consistent and, for someone with no financial or familial interests in either Lido or Siesta Keys, I suspect I have been one of the more engaged stakeholders. Aside from digging a deeper foxhole, the Corps has not shown much interest in alternative approaches, negotiating, or otherwise engaging the public, but now there is some reason to be optimistic.

Here's my take on the current situation: 

Lido Key residents are understandably preoccupied with the current status of their beach, which has made them susceptible to desperation-driven decision-making because the Corps proposal has seemed to be their only hope. Their reluctance to negotiate reflects the Corps' pouty insistence that nothing can be tinkered with. While desperation of the Lido residents has made their position more motivated and powerful, it doesn't address any of the real-world obstacles that need to be overcome. These include the threat of additional legal actions from Siesta Key, the Corps re-starting the scoping process, the need to undertake a variety of studies and environmental assessments that must precede permitting, and the ultimate uncertainty of federal funding. These obstacles could easily take two to three years to address and even then there is no guarantee of federal funding. 

The one bright spot in all this is the fortuitous existence of the FEMA-funded Debby nourishment. This creates an opportunity to use local funds to supplement the Debby emergency nourishment (planned for this Fall) since a significant portion of the cost is mobilization/demobilization (getting the equipment in place). In other words, it will be much more cost efficient to pump more sand while they are already there than to finagle a separate project. This piggyback strategy isn't my idea, but when you think about it, it seems fairly obvious and it is an idea I can support

If local governments can make this happen using non-Big Pass sources, we achieve two important things: we provide relief, even if temporary, for the Lido beaches, and we create capacity to address some of the more problematic aspects of the current Corps proposals. Those include both significant deficiencies in the public process and the unaddressed concerns regarding the South Lido Park groins, the Big Pass source, and the fifty-year commitment.

What has been needed, from the outset, is an open process that involves all stakeholders in a joint search for a beach and inlet management strategy that can maintain usable beaches, qualify for federal funding support, and address a variety of concerns that include effects on neighboring islands, public use, navigation, and environmental impacts. If Debby can help us get there I think we'd be foolish not to seek her assistance.

No matter how severe you think Lido erosion is, adding sand sooner is preferable to waiting and it allows for more reasoned consideration of the Corps of Engineers proposal

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