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Siesta Key Group Asks County to Intervene in Dredging Project

Posted on July 26, 2016

By Zach Murdock, Herald-Tribune

The Siesta Key Association is asking Sarasota County to intervene in plans to renourish Lido Key, and demand that federal engineers perform a second, more exhaustive environmental study before the project moves forward.

The association argues that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the project with the city of Sarasota, “arbitrarily dismissed reasonable alternatives” to their plan to dredge about 950,000 cubic yards of sand from the shoals in Big Pass.

That plan has come under intense scrutiny from Siesta Key residents, businesses and civic groups that fear the project could alter the channel between the two keys, potentially putting Siesta beaches and Ted Sperling Park at risk for greater or speedier erosion.

Although the project has undergone a required environmental assessment, the Sarasota County Commission should demand a more stringent — and time-consuming — environmental impact statement be completed before the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issues expected permits for the project, the group said in a letter to the commission.

The environmental impact statement would require the Corps to update its principal design and analyze alternative options, which the association and other opponents of the plan believe have been unfairly ruled out.

“As this project design continues to cycle within the EA (environmental assessment) and FDEP permit process, our coastal community is not being afforded the protections of NEPA (the National Environmental Protection Act),” the letter states. “Based on the data thus far, it’s indefensible to reach a FONSI (finding of no significant impact) and an EIS (environmental impact study) is necessary.”

But the window to intervene could be closing faster than the county can act, if it chooses to consider the request.

The letter was distributed to commissioners during their meeting July 13, but it was not on the agenda or discussed. Now the commission is in recess and will not meet again until Aug. 22.

By then, DEP officials are expected to have the final request for additional information from the Corps for their review, at which point what is called a “notice of intent” to issue permits for the project will be imminent, officials have said. That could leave the commission with little or no time to act, if it even decided to support the request.

Multiple attempts by the Herald-Tribune to reach members of the association for comment since the letter was released were unsuccessful.

If the request is not granted or isn’t finished before the “notice of intent” is issued, the project is likely to be held up by a legal challenge from a group of other Siesta Key residents and businesses.

Save our Siesta Sand 2, which has opposed the project for several years, announced publicly this month that it has begun fundraising for its long-rumored planned lawsuit to block the project.

In the meantime, Lido Key’s starved beaches will be left without any aid and engineers have said alternatives are all too expensive or too short-term to ultimately fix erosion problems on the key.

Source: Herald-Tribune

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