Hurricane aftermath underscores need for creek dredging

The flooding after Hurricane Irma last month was a rude reminder to residents along Millers Creek that the inlet really needs to be dredged.

But it will be at least a year before work on the creek in the Mayfair neighborhood of St. Nicholas starts.

“For people who just bought houses that might seem like a long time, but that’s really short term for us,” said resident Sharon Johnson, secretary of the Millers Creek Special District.

“One way or another we have been pursuing it since the 1940s,” Johnson said. “When we bought our house in 2000 we were told the dredging was imminent. That was not correct. They did dredging on Pottsburg Creek and ours was under consideration but we never made it to the top of the list and then the economy tanked.”

The land around the 1,000-foot waterway has been occupied since 1799 when English surveyor David Miller settled it. The last dredging project was done in 1947 and the creek has slowly silted up over the past seven decades.

“We have so little water. The manatee used to come up but now it’s all silt,” Johnson said. “It looks like beautiful water but it’s only a few inches deep at high tide. At low tide, it’s horrendous. It’s awful, black gummy goo. It’s an eyesore and it’s nasty.”

But a lot of work still has to be done before the dredging can begin.

Permits must be procured from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. That might be doable by spring, but that’s when sturgeon begin spawning in the St. Johns River, so dredging must wait.

The biggest decision facing the group is where to put the dredge material that is dredged from the waterway.

“The biggest cost is how do you handle the material that is removed. Do you handle it multiple times? Where is its final resting location?” said Joe Wagner, senior dredging engineer with Amec Foster Wheeler, the consultant for the group.

The farther the material has to be taken the more expensive it gets, Wagner said. The Port of Jacksonville has a dump site but charges a $22 per cubic yard tipping fee. Wagner estimates that about 30,000 cubic yards will be dredged from the creek, and when you factor in the transportation costs, that would make the port site prohibitively expensive.

So, the group is talking with several property owners closer to the creek who might be willing to have the material on their land.

Another issue is how to remove water from the dredge material, which is mostly sand and silt. Sand will drain but silt retains water that must be mechanically removed.

Once all of those issues are sorted out, they have to figure out how to pay for it. Wagner said a low estimate is $1 million to $1.5 million. Part of the cost will be paid with the $3,000 assessment levied on homeowners by the Special District.

Other options were discussed at the Sept. 18 board meeting, including trying to qualify for a Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) grant, which would provide up to 75 percent for public navigation projects, and 50 percent for other projects.

The city would have to seek the grant on behalf of the district, but Jacksonville has already received several million dollars in FIND grants for a variety of projects on the river, including kayak launches. And that’s another possibility, putting a boat launch on the creek.

Opening the neighborhood to a public recreation site creates other issues of parking and privacy, Wagner said. The advantage to a kayak launch is that the city will continue to maintain it.

Once the dredging is done, it will have to be maintained, Wagner said. It will have to be re-dredged in five to seven years and then again every seven to 10 years.

“I applaud these folks; they are taking on a good-sized project,” Wagner said. “I’m a fan of the concept of special districts. It makes people talk to each other and think about solutions that work for everybody. That’s a good thing all around.”


By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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