Residents concerned Fishweir Creek dredging ‘island’ will be eyesore

Residents concerned Fishweir Creek dredging ‘island’ will be eyesore
A kayaker’s view of Fishweir Creek heading toward the mouth at the St. John’s River (Photo by Mike Webster)

The City Council has approved a partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers for the long-awaited dredging of Fishweir Creek, and a public meeting on the project will be in June to explain the $6.5 million project to dredge the waterway and restore the ecosystem.

The project, first recommended by the Corps in 2007, might finally get underway this year.

While some residents along the creek are looking forward to the creek being swimmable and navigable again, not everyone is happy.

Silt has been collecting in Fishweir for decades. Mike Webster, who has lived on the creek since 2000, said that back in the 1980s, sand from major development washed into the creek. Not only did the shallow creek become even shallower, the sand collected on the banks and over time maple trees and other vegetation have taken root.

“It looks like a pond now but is used to be a boat slip,” Webster said. “The previous owner kept a 16-foot boat there, but now the sand is so solid you can walk on it.”

The plan is to remove the sand to open up the waterway and restore the natural current that flushes out the creek. The sand and muck will be deposited offshore on a dredge island.

But Larry Lee, a resident of Woodmere Drive, said the dredge island will be in the river right off his property. Not only will it ruin his view of the St. Johns River, he’s worried that the muck will stink, attract insects and be eroded by storms.

The Corps’ project engineer declined to be interviewed for this story, but it has said that the dredge island is the most economical solution and the plan is to create an ecosystem on the island to attract birds and other wildlife.

“They say it’s going to have wading birds and be gorgeous,” Lee said. “But it’s a contrived island, and all it does is shift the problem from the creek to us.

“I’ve lived and played on the river all my life, and I know what’s going to happen. Flotsam is going to float up and it will be an eyesore. There will be plants, but they won’t necessarily be pretty marsh grass,” Lee said. “It’s not fair to us. The only reason they are going to be it there is because they don’t want to spend $1 million to haul it off.”

And he’s especially worried if — or when — Jacksonville is hit by another hurricane like Irma.

“Irma was strong enough to pull the concrete bulkhead from my yard that has been there 60 years with all kinds of rip rap protecting it,” Lee said. “A storm like Irma would rip a dredge island to shreds.”

Capt. Jim Suber, Jacksonville’s waterways coordinator and dock master, said a number of islands in the St. Johns River are made from dredge, including part of Blount Island and Exchange Island.

The city is now adding amenities to the 34-acre Exchange Island, which was created in the 1930s and known as Mud Island. A new floating dock, kayak launch, trails and picnic shelters have been added to encourage recreational use.

“I’m not an engineer, but the Army Corp is well known for its engineering ability, and our city engineers, if they question it, they won’t move forward,” Suber said.

Suber said if the island is built properly and the vegetation is allowed to get established, the island should be stable even in a big storm.

“Right now, it’s a dead creek,” Suber said. “This is a good way for stakeholders on Fishweir to get their creek back in an economical and efficient way.”

Amanda Parker, a spokeswoman for the Corps, said the Corps is waiting for the city to sign the Project Partnership Agreement. Once that is done, and funding is in place, the Corps will have a public meeting to discuss specifics of the project.

“I really don’t like to call it dredging,” said District 14 Councilman Jim Love. “It’s eco-restoration. The silt has to be removed. It’s unsightly at low tide, but dredging sounds so anti-green. And there may not be an island. That is one of the options. It’s premature to say that’s what the Corps is going to do. There may be other options. The Corps is sensitive to what people think. We’ll know more at the meeting in June.”

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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