Willowbranch Creek remediation settlement withdrawn

After more than a year in negotiation with the City of Jacksonville’s Regulatory Compliance Department (RCD), the Public Works Department – another City entity – chose to pay a $36,160 penalty and withdraw from a signed settlement. This agreement would have entered Public Works into a compliance plan with the Jacksonville Energy Authority (JEA) to jointly clean up Willow Branch Creek.

The proposed settlement between the RCD as petitioner, and the respondents, Public Works and the Jacksonville Energy Authority (JEA), cited failure to utilize adequate erosion and sediment control devices, resulting in an unlawful discharge of other materials into surface waters, exceeding water quality standards.

Public Works withdrew their agreement because it has submitted a $300,000 project in the City’s 2016-2017 Capital Improvement Plan to remediate the historic sedimentation in the creek from Riverside Avenue to St. Johns Avenue. JEA will contribute towards the removal of 40 cubic yards of sediment as part of the remediation effort when it occurs, according to spokesperson Gerri Boyce.

Although the creek stretches from Sydney Street to the St. Johns River, most of the concern by nearby residents is about the portion of the creek from Riverside Avenue through the Yacht Basin and out to the river.

Decades of natural sedimentation, which routinely clogged the drainage system, was compounded in 2013 when a project to upgrade the Riverside Avenue bridge over the creek went awry. 

The environmental issue was the result of two separate events in the summer of 2013. In June of that year, Public Works and the bridge project contractor, the Touring Company, were issued a Cease and Desist Citation for the above noted failure. A few weeks later, in early July, a water main break on St. Johns Avenue resulted in unwanted sedimentation in Willow Branch Creek, for which the JEA voluntarily agreed to remediate.

The bridge project was nearly complete in late 2014 when initial meetings began between the City Contractors Dispute Review Board (CCDRB) and Touring Company, and resulted in $110,360.70 compensation paid to the contractor by the City.

Meanwhile, parallel meetings between RCD, Public Works and the JEA were underway to resolve the erosion and sedimentation issue, and continued for more than a year before the Public Works Department announced at an April 11 Environmental Protection Board meeting it would withdraw from the settlement and pay the penalty.

Willowbranch Creek is proving to be somewhat of a money-pit for the City and its taxpayers. What was originally bid as a $337,000 project finally approached half a million dollars, and will grow by $336,000-plus for the penalty and sedimentation remediation.

After remediation, which is not yet scheduled, a $1.3 million project is slated for bulkhead replacement of Willowbranch Creek from Sydney Street to the St. Johns River. The construction project, which was pushed out past 2020, is described as demolition and replacement of the current bulkhead, removal of exotic species from the banks, elimination of eroding areas due to bulkhead failure, and bringing all pedestrian crossings up to current safety standards and in compliance with American Disabilities Act.


By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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