A Tale of Three Beaches

Policy inequities re: Siesta, Lido and Venice beaches

Published April 28,2012 in SRQ Daily

Sarasota County is blessed with natural resources that are among the finest in the nation. The crown jewel among them? Our beaches.  Beaches are the foundation of our economy and a primary reason people visit Sarasota County. When county residents in 2008 ranked their priorities for public funding, “water quality and natural systems” was No. 4, behind paramedic and fire services and roads. Resident priorities are not reflected in local government decisions when it comes to maximizing the recreational and economic benefits of our beaches. Siesta Beach was named the No.1 beach in America by Dr. Beach, but other local beaches won’t make the list due toinadequate amenities or water contamination problems. County government plays fairy godmother to Siesta while they treat other local shores like ugly stepsisters.

Residents love Siesta and want improved access. The problem is parking. The county endorsed a $20-million Siesta improvement project that includes a net increase in parking of 130 spaces. Sounds good, but the county turned down a plan that would net 459 extra spaces and cost $2 million less. The difference is plantings and beautification that increase price but result in only modest parking improvement. (The county has put parking on the back burner while Siesta water quality issues are remedied, but the philosophy remains.

Then there’s Lido Beach, one ignored sister. The Lido Casino was at one point a landmark amenity, a popular gathering place for people of all ages. City Commissioners failed to renovate the structure, in spite of 2-to-1 voter approval for a $250,000 bond to fund improvements. The current Lido Pool is in need of a facelift with an estimated cost of $1 million. Yet there has been talk in government about closing or privatizing Lido Pool due to lack of funds. Unfortunately, the county kicked Lido Pool to the curb in 2010, foisting its sustenance on the dual-taxed residents of the city. Amazing how easy it is for the county to come up with millions for Siesta while Lido goes without.

Let’s not forget Venice Beach, plagued by enteric (read fecal) bacteria contamination and subject to routine closings that disrupt visitor and resident access. Bewildered and unable to pinpoint the cause of Venice Beach contamination, local government last year was assisted by a middle school student’s science project which identified beach outfalls (pipes carrying untreated stormwater) as the source. A Venice city engineer recently
confirmed the youngster’s findings. With the cause of contamination identified, problems with untreated stormwater runoff must now be addressed. The solution ought to take into account that numerous outfalls and lousy water quality are a significant barrier to Venice making the top beach list.

The focus and energy lavished on manmade projects is missing from the county’s commitment to our beaches. Residents made it clear what we value; leaders should act accordingly. When the county punts beach welfare to municipalities, they abandon a key constituent priority. It’s time to trade a masters-of-the-universe approach for a stewards-of-the-earth strategy. It’s the right thing to do, and the right thing for our economy.

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