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Army Corps responds to Lido Beach lawsuit

The agency denied that it broke federal laws in granting permssion for dredging to renourish Lido Beach

SARASOTA — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is denying allegations by a group of Siesta Key residents who claim the federal agency broke the law by failing to conduct a crucial study to examine how a contentious dredging project to renourish eroded Lido Beach could potentially harm Siesta Key.

In a formal response last month to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by Save Our Siesta Sands 2, the Army Corps refuted assertions that the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The federal agency also asked a judge to toss out the case, while claiming a Final Environmental Assessment, which is not as comprehensive as an Environmental Impact Statement, provided a sufficient analysis of the project’s potential effects.

“Defendant denies that plaintiff is entitled to the requested relief or any relief from this court and requests that this action be dismissed with prejudice, that judgment be entered in favor of defendant and that defendant be allowed its costs and such other and further relief as the court may allow,” court documents from the Army Corps’ April 1 response state.

Save Our Siesta Sands 2 in January filed the suit against the Corps in an attempt to block the controversial project after the federal agency ignored a request from the citizens group to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement to address economic and environmental concerns about the plan to dredge Big Pass to rebuild Lido Beach. The 60-day notice filed late last year initiated a two-month period in which the Corps could have remedied the issue raised by the group or face litigation if it refused.

The suit claims the project violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, which in turn affects numerous areas of the Administrative Procedure Act, and is notably silent on how the project may exacerbate red tide conditions and the local economy, according to the 31-page complaint. The group also cited concerns about the impact of taking sand from nearby sources, or “borrow areas,” that it says are needed to protect Siesta Key.

If the Corps attempts to begin work on the joint project with the city of Sarasota — slated to start this fall — the group plans to file for an emergency order to halt the work, group representatives said Monday.

“They’re taking the position that they have done everything right and we don’t believe that they have,” Save Our Siesta Sands 2 Chairman Peter van Roekens said. “The major failing is the failing to conduct an area-wide environmental impact analysis.”

“Once it’s started there’s no turning back,” van Roekens added of the project.

It’s unclear if the pending litigation could delay the project.

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