Residents scrutinize Fishweir Creek plans at first public meeting

Residents scrutinize Fishweir Creek plans at first public meeting

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted its first community meeting about the proposed Big Fishweir Creek Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project last month — an event which drew more than 80 residents of the Fishweir Creek area. The crowd assembled at Fishweir Elementary School in Avondale to learn more about the extensive environmental project and its local impact.
The project’s goal is to restore a healthy aquatic habitat in the Big Fishweir Creek ecosystem. USACE wants to dredge the creek, reusing 32,000 cubic yards of sediment for the restoration and recreation of a 2.3-acre manmade marsh island that defined the area decades ago. Dredging also will create two converging channels and deepen the creek.
Officials estimate the project’s cost to be $3.5 million with 65 percent coming from federal funds and 35 percent from the city.
“It all comes down to the cost-per-habitat-unit,” said Christyn Wiederhold, project engineer. “We want to have the best habitat that we can to put us in the running for funding to create the project.”
Corps representatives presented a PowerPoint detailing the highlights of their plan and then fielded questions during the three-hour meeting.
Most questions from the audience were about the island.
“I don’t have a problem with the dredging,” said Sally Lee, who lives near the mouth of the creek. “But can’t we use the sediment to build up other areas rather than make a $1 million island?”
Others asked if the sediment could be used to restore bulkheads around the creek. “Based on sediment analysis, the sediment is not suitable in composition for this purpose,” said Amanda Ellison, the corps’ public affairs specialist, responding to follow-up questions via email with input from project experts.
At the meeting, corps’ experts reiterated the justification of the island found in their report: “re-establish lost marsh area, provide wildlife habitat, reduce turbidity, provide littoral shelf forage for the endangered manatee and reduce restoration costs by providing on-site disposal for dredge materials.”
In a phone interview following the meeting, resident Larry Lee voiced concern that the island would block his city view. He was particularly worried about it becoming a “garbage dump” for trash and weeds.
“Who’s gong to maintain it and keep it from smelling, attracting bugs and being an eyesore?” he asked.
Ellison responded: “The island will increase velocities within the creek and around the island, therefore decreasing trash within the water body. The majority of the island will be below the water table with approximately one foot of the island visible at low tide. The city will maintain the island.”
Resident Karen Watson had similar island-related concerns going into the meeting, but left satisfied, for now, with the answers she received.
“I just want to make sure they’re considering all alternatives,” Watson said. “But I’d rather have an island than muck. I want the river to be healthy; I’m thinking longer-term than just today.”
Robert Woodard, owner of B & W Marine Construction, felt that the island was a good alternative, but shared a different concern.
“I don’t think 32,000 cubic yards of dredging is going to make a dent and using a portable cutter-suction dredge is gong to take forever,” Woodard said.
During the meeting, project manager Jim Suggs underscored the project is still in its early stages, and encouraged such feedback. It was also noted that the next phase is engineering design, so concerns about the location of the island and channels within the creek and the effect on existing properties will be addressed before the project moves forward. While some mentioned the existence of artesian wells, they are not expected to change the scope of the project.
Watson said it is about due diligence. “The most important thing for us is that we keep their feet to the fire so that they know we are concerned. It could be disastrous if they don’t do it right.”
The next meeting will be announced when a date is set. The following link shares the presentation and posters from the meeting: www.saj.usace.army.mil/
Divisions/Planning/Branches/Environmental/DocsNotices_OnLine_DuvalCo.

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