Protecting a Precious Commodity

The Detail

BY CATHY ANTUNES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY DEC 31, 2016

The holidays are a time of year to celebrate and count our blessings, and a time to pause and reflect. We are blessed with beautiful beaches which provide a rich quality of life and tourism. The new year is shaping up to be one of pivotal decisions for one of our most valued beaches, Siesta Key. Proposed Benderson development plans at Stickney Point and 41 will impact Siesta’s south bridge traffic. The County’s decision to vacate Beach Road along Siesta’s shoreline is being challenged. Plans to dredge Big Pass raises questions about the impact on Siesta Key’s quartz sand shoreline. Most recently, a developer effort is emerging to make it easier to build large hotels (100 rooms or more) on Siesta Key. What will the future hold for our beloved beach town?

In the background, receiving relatively little attention, Siesta Key residents experienced an unpleasant surprise during September’s Hurricane Hermine. During the storm, county officials announced wastewater facilities were experiencing higher-than-usual volumes.

Stormwater put pressure on our sewage infrastructure. Siesta’s Key’s wastewater treatment facility found it couldn’t keep pace with the influx. Partially treated wastewater was released into the Grand Canal on Siesta Key to avoid an uncontrolled raw sewage spill. That effluent was neither disinfected nor denitrified. While County residents were alerted that facilities had reached capacity and warned to avoid draining stormwater which could be contaminated, Siesta Key residents were not alerted about effluent discharge into the Grand Canal.

When cleaning up after the hurricane, a Siesta resident noticed what appeared to be fecal matter attached to her dock. She was quoted by a local paper: “I don’t know how, morally, they can go home and sleep at night knowing that we’re all living here and using the water as normal.”

Traffic issues are easier to see. The congestion at Stickney Point and US 41 and the increase in accidents at the intersection has sparked concern about how Benderson Development’s proposal will impact the NW corner of the intersection. Many assume that Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has veto power over what may be built there, because US 41 is a state road. But FDOT has no control over local development decisions. FDOT is calling for coordination efforts with the County, saying it’s “vital” due to safety issues: “Crashes have increased on average 30 percent per year with an astonishing 175 percent total increase between 2010 and 2014.”

There will always be calls for more growth on Siesta Key. There will always be pressure to privatize the beach by those who live next to it, to the detriment of an economy that depends on visitors. When it comes to growth, our infrastructure deserves more attention. At buildout, do we have the capacity to protect our waterways? At buildout, will our roads work to provide safe transportation? What will all this cost? For a healthy, prosperous future, these issues require specific answers now, not when it’s too late to put the development genie back in the bottle.

Cathy Antunes serves on the board of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.

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