Dredging up interest

Millers Creek group to gauge depth of desire for a special tax district

By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

St. Nicholas residents living on Millers Creek met last month for the second time to discuss creating a special tax district to fund the dredging of the waterway that has become increasingly shallow over the years.

While there is still plenty of information left to dig up to determine if any dredging will be done, plans are underway to canvass the neighborhood to see if residents are willing to pay additional yearly taxes for the benefit of deeper water.

Between 34 to 38 homeowners on Mayfair Road, Gay Avenue and Morier Street would be affected, depending on how far residents decide to dredge up to the mouth of the creek where it meets the St. Johns River.

Tamara Baker, a resident on the creek organizing the effort, said the objectives are to make the waterway more navigable thereby increasing the property value of residences, as well as environmentally cleaner by removing the debris that has surfaced from the drainage on Atlantic and Beach Boulevards.

“The creek has a lot of runoff from surrounding streets. If we can get some of the loose sediment out and deepen it, the tidal flow will increase, thus increasing the circulation, clarity and cleanliness of the water,” explained Baker.

The creek, which gets progressively shallower as it ebbs towards Atlantic Boulevard, requires boaters who live along the shore to carefully plan their outings based on the tides.
At the meeting, Joseph Wagner, Senior Dredging Engineer with Taylor Engineering, explained the processes necessary to propel the project forward including permitting, project limits, and data collection.

After an underwater survey and sediment transport modeling is conducted, an estimate can be formulated on dredging volume, construction costs, construction period, maintenance period and maintenance costs.

But first and foremost, he recommends that residents decide if they want the dredging and the necessary maintenance that will ensure that sediment does not eventually re-settle.
“Determine if you desire this to happen…then establish the district, figure out the cost, go through the permitting processes and then take yourself through this at the speed that you as a community feel comfortable,” explained Wagner.

Without further studies, Wagner can only give scenarios as to how much maintenance would be necessary on an on-going basis. Neighbors say the creek has been dredged before. While no one seems to know exactly when, they estimate it was “sometime after 1949.” Because it has been so long since the last dredging, it’s hard for Wagner to say how often it would have to be dredged for maintenance.

“Your second dredge is always more than your normal maintenance,” explained Wagner. “You will get to a certain point that you get the water body into a shape and form that it will want to behave properly, and then you can come back and just maintain it on a cycle.”
Wagner, who describes the process as creating an infrastructure, estimates that the second dredge is usually 50 percent more than what maintenance will be.
While the exact amount of sediment removal remains unknown until definitive studies are conducted, Baker, who is an engineer, estimates that 30,000 cubic yards would need to be removed to reach the five-feet of depth they are looking to create.

There won’t be an official estimate until there is a special tax district created to fund the surveys and studies necessary to formulate one.
However, assuming 30,000 cubic yards need to be removed Wagner estimates it will cost $40 to $45 per cubic yard to dredge the creek, resulting in a possible $1.35 million

Wayne Flowers, an attorney with Lewis, Longman and Walker, explained the special tax district that could be set up to finance the dredging. He mentioned two neighborhoods that have used the governmental mechanism to finance the cost of doing the studies and dredging projects that are also available to residents along Millers Creek.

The special tax district, which would be set up by City Council, offers a way to require and enforce payments from all the affected homeowners with a non-ad valorem assessment set up for the purposes of funding dredging and the ongoing maintenance associated with it.

“It is a special purpose government; generally they are created with some very specific authority to do a specific function, in this case maintenance dredging, and are given the authority up to some limited amount to assess the real property that is benefited within the geographic boundaries of that district that would be described very specifically to raise money,” explained Flowers.

An elected board would be in control of the project.

Flowers said that in the other districts that he has set up the majority of residents were in favor of doing so.
Baker estimated that more than 75 percent of her neighbors are interested in learning more about the process.

She said the next step is to circulate a petition to neighbors on the affected streets to verify residents’ interest in the special tax district that would fund the creek’s dredging.

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