Bacteria found in Millers Creek won’t affect dredging project

City environmentalists have detected human fecal coliform in the St. Johns River near Millers Creek, but it shouldn’t affect efforts to dredge the creek in the Mayfair neighborhood of St. Nicholas.

The City of Jacksonville’s Environmental Protection Board routinely monitors the river for fecal coliform, which can be from human or animal waste. Millers Creek is one site that has shown high levels of human fecal coliform, said Melissa Long, environmental quality division chief. She said the department is working with JEA to try to find the source.

High levels of the bacteria from human sources can signal leaking sewage pipes or septic tanks. People who swim in contaminated water can get ear infections, dysentery, typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis, and hepatitis A.

But swimmers aren’t an issue for Millers Creek, which is mostly muck.

“We have people who try boating up our creek and get stuck in sludge,” said Sharon B. Johnson, secretary of the Millers Creek Special Tax District. “Just a few inches under the water is all the silt. They have to get out in the sludge and push their boat back to the mouth of the creek. It is so gross.”

Johnson said she is not entirely surprised that fecal coliform has been found in the creek.

“We have so many storm drains emptying in our creek,” she said.

The problems date back to the 1960s when the AT&T building was constructed on Beach Boulevard and a spring that fed the creek was closed up.

Fecal coliform shouldn’t affect the dredging project, said Joe Wagner, project engineer.

“It is something you find in every tributary in urban settings,” Wagner said. 

“When you dredge, you are removing the material off the bottom and separating out the water. The fecal coliform stays with the water. You oxidize it when the material dries out,” Wagner said.

The actual dredging is at least a year away but before it is done, the water and silt will be tested for things like lead, arsenic, mercury and hydrocarbons, which could indicate contamination from gasoline. But since there’s never been a marina or gas station in the area, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern, Wagner said.

The project is now entering the permitting phase, which involves the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the Army Corps of Engineers.

FDEP will want to know whether the water needs to be treated, Wagner said. When it is satisfied, it will issue a water quality certificate.

The Corps will be consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA Marine Fishery Services about what the project needs to do to protect threatened or endangered species like manatee and sturgeon, which spawn in the area, Wagner said. They’ll also want marshes in the area protected with buffers.

“They want to know what condition you will leave the waterway when you’re done,” Wagner said. 

Wagner said the goal of the project is to leave the creek with significantly better water quality and access to boaters.

But the permitting process could take six to nine months to complete, he said.

“This is a long-term infrastructure project, so it is realistic to think the dredging won’t start until next year,” Wagner said. “It should take about four to five months to complete.”

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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