Dredging controversy between Lido and Siesta Key
Editor & Publisher
Battling eroding beaches is obviously not indigenous to Longboat Key.
Right now, anyone following Sarasota County news knows that Lido Key and Siesta Key residents are at odds over the Army Corps of Engineering proposal to remove 1.3 million cubic yards of sand from Big Pass, which separates Lido and Siesta Keys, and place the sand on the severely eroded South Lido shoreline.
Siesta residents have organized and say that the plan could impact one of the region’s greatest assets – the Siesta public beach – and its shoreline in general.
Anyone who googles “best beaches” and “Florida” will find Siesta Beach in a top tier. That includes Conde Nast, Travel Magazine, Dr. Beach and on and on.
What is the value, risk?
So what is the inherent and intrinsic value of that moniker? What is the value to the region as an economic and social impact? And, most importantly, what is the reality of the threat to Siesta if the dredging is approved and then likely more swipes at the shoals will come in the future?
After all, tantalizingly close supplies of sand are rarely scooped once. It is like taking two spoonfuls at a brunch buffet. Once the appetite is whetted, rationalizations for more trips inevitably come into play.
Meanwhile, the Army contends that the accumulated shoal that juts out at they mouth of Big Pass can be dredged with a minimal impact according to engineering and modeling studies.
Part of the dilemma and fear on the part of Siesta residents is that beaches protect property and shoals protect beaches.
The argument for taxpayers in general is removing the shoal has an economic efficiency over adding new sand into the system from an offshore source.
But engineers inevitably drift into the realm of an applied science – a lot like appraisers and actuaries. And when nature contradicts their intentions or the unintended nature of the ocean intervenes on their designs, they come back to be hired to engineer a new solution. And so it goes.
Residents who were on Longboat Key 20 years ago may recall the first major beach renourishment in 1993. In that renourishment, the large shoal at the mouth of Longboat Pass, which separates Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, was used as major borrow area. The sand was high quality and close to shore, which always is a cost saving factor.
In the years since, several engineering reports as well as the West Coast Navigational District attributed several deleterious effects to the dredging of that shoal.
First, it was found to have exacerbated erosion on Longboat Key’s North-end. Secondly, it accelerated the migration of the channel toward Longboat Key, which is now to the point of prompting realignment strategies. Another outcome is the ongoing erosion of Beer Can Island.
In fact, Coastal Planning and Engineering told the Longboat Key Commission it ought to install offshore breakwaters to help diminish the velocity of the approaching waves. That is exactly what the shoal once provided.
Longboat Key has all but abandoned efforts to renourish and stabilize Beer Can Island on its north end. The island is literally washing away and the Town has drawn a line of defenses to the south in front of residential properties where they are about to install two groins to jut out 150 feet.
Ends and means
All this comes into play at Siesta and Lido Key and here is why. It comes down to ends justifying the means and the law of unintended consequences.
The Army contends that the dredging of the Big Pass Shoal will only amount to perhaps 5% to 10% of the accumulated sand and the effects should be minimal and negligibly increase wave action.
And while the numbers are likely accurate, the slippery slope is daunting. One can be certain the Ringling Bridge could sustain traffic if it was built with 5% less cement and every home would remain standing if the 140 MPH wind load calculations were reduced by a commensurate amount.
But another quantifiable measure is that other sand sources are available for simply more money. Perhaps therein lies the rub.
The properties being protected on Lido are upscale waterfront properties built on a dredge and fill island that was literally created a century ago into the state we see today.
And while the Gulf is at war with the shoreline, Siesta is firm in wanting to guard the good thing it has going – a navigable channel, prime beaches and an accreting shoreline.
Keep in mind that the sand the Army and City of Sarasota plan to dredge will not be the final 1.3 million yards. You can think of this as the first bite out of a hot fudge sundae. Lido will need more sand and Longboat Key has claimed that it will receive the next dredging from New Pass, the other source the Army and City plan to use. Then in years to come, Longboat and Lido will need increasing amounts of sand.
Sarasota County Commissioner and Siesta Key resident Nora Patterson is taking a most sensible approach. She is proceeding with the proverbial cautious optimism. Patterson urged the Commission to hire an independent engineering firm to review the project last Wednesday.
The Commission unanimously agreed to spend up to $50,000 to review the dredging project. Patterson said she wants to ensure that the dredging project would not hurt Siesta beaches or effect navigation in Big Pass. Patterson also wants the firm to not have ties to the Army Corps and she said she does not expect the review to require extensive new engineering work.
Unfortunately, the word ‘ensure’ will mean acceptable damage or moderate or minimal or acceptable impact.
Sad and sobering reality
The sad and sobering reality is that this battle is but a skirmish in what will soon become the new reality in beach management.
The cost has grown exponentially and the easy sand sources are too close to home to avoid impact. And we have already returned full circle to embracing ugly structural solutions. We are now eyeing backyard sand and experts are crowding the field telling everyone that this is simply maintenance dredging.
The demand will grow, the cost is escalating and the structures demanding protection have grown increasingly expensive and elaborate as well.
Take the Longboat estate now on the former Yonkers property: a single-family home with a price tag near $20 million. The fact is, modern America not only wants to swim at the beach, we want to build elaborate homes on the closest precipice to the sea as possible and then insist on maintaining our own little prayer rug of sand downstairs from our living room.
And the cost and burden to protect homes falls unhesitatingly on the general taxpayer and demands an increasing percentage of tourism taxes.
All of this gives living on the unsustainable edge a whole new meaning.
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