Fishweir Creek dredging to begin in 2021

Dredging will begin next year along Big Fishweir Creek, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say will help restore a deeper flow to the channel.
Dredging will begin next year along Big Fishweir Creek, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say will help restore a deeper flow to the channel.

Residents who remember boating along Fishweir Creek before the waterway slowly constricted can look forward to putting a boat into a deeper, more easily navigable waterway. And, hopefully, there will be manatees to see along the journey.

The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers plans to begin dredging early next year to help restore the creek to its historical depth and former pristine state. 

The creek meanders from the St. Johns River in Avondale and heads under Herschel Street by its namesake school, Fishweir Elementary. The waterway has not been easily navigable for more than a decade, with talks dating back to 2007 about its restoration. Kayakers still enjoy paddling along its waters, especially under the Herschel Street bridge, but what once was a deep waterway has become shallow and harder for wildlife and boaters alike to enjoy due to sediments from surrounding development and storm events.

The Corps hopes to change that, by removing both sediment and invasive plants. At the beginning of June, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said a $6.5 million project to restore the waterway would begin in early 2021 and be done by the end of the same year. The majority of the funding is federal while about 35% is from the City.

Some in the area can recall what it looked like before, including District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor.

“I think it’s great, it’s been needed for at least decades,” DeFoor said. “I’m from here, I am a native. I grew up in Avondale. There was a high level of water there. You could pull up a boat.”

Big Fishweir Creek is an urban tributary of the St. Johns River, located about four miles south of downtown Jacksonville, and enters the St. Johns just north of the Ortega River. It’s considered essential fish habitat, and The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has designated the water body as an area that should be swimmable and fishable. But, due to increasing development along its banks and storm events, sediment has blanketed the natural creek bottom, causing what the state of Florida describes as degradation of the natural habitat.

Juliana Matiz, project manager for the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, said the project entailed dredging to remove the accumulation of debris and sediment at the bottom of the creek. The removed sediment would be transported off site to a Jacksonville Port Authority (Jaxport) location  – the Jaxport Bartram Island location.

Dredging is not expected to disturb neighborhoods and work will be conducted during the day, including operations for clearing trees and trash, she said.

“They will not be working in residential areas with construction equipment,” she added. “Nothing in terms of docks and properties will be accessed in the construction process.”

She said the project was in the design phase and a date for a public meeting would be set before construction happens. However, the dredging may cause the closure of certain areas that kayakers or others enjoy at the moment.

“There may be limited access points,” she said. “We don’t have all those determined at this point.”

David Ruderman, a U.S. Army Corps spokesman, said plans to create an island with the removed sediment were no longer on the table. The idea of creating an island had caused concern among some homeowners who live along the St. Johns River. Back in 2018, they expressed worries that an island would obstruct their view, attract bugs and floating trash, and that major storms would damage it.

“The idea of creating an island was jettisoned in the planning phases of this project,” he said. “(Sediment) will be dredged from Big Fishweir Creek, and it will be deposited on Bartram Island.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

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