Ortega Park subcontractors fined for stormwater violations

Ortega Park subcontractors fined for stormwater violations
During a six-month period between January and July sediment spills have created muddy turbidity in the waters of the Ortega River creating the color of chocolate milk.

After six repeated violations of best management practices that would prevent sediment from flowing into the Ortega River, two subcontractors for Dewberry Group, the owner and developer of Ortega Park Mall on Roosevelt Boulevard, entered into a “Consent Order” with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Aug. 3.

Marietta Sand Corporation and RLH Construction LLC, subcontractors who are installing new infrastructure in what was formerly Roosevelt Mall shopping center, were fined $26,500 and have signed an agreement – OGC File No. 20-1107 – to take corrective and preventative measures that will prevent turbid stormwater on the construction site from traveling into the Ortega River, said Florida State Senator Wyman Duggan.

The fine included $26,000 for civil penalties and $500 for costs and expenses incurred by the DEP during the investigation of the matter. The civil penalty included six violations that warranted a penalty of $2,000 or more, and also included a penalty of $5,000 each for two documented water-quality violations, according to the Consent Order.

On several occasions over six months, between January and July, longtime Ortega Yacht Club Condominium residents Sharon and Don Light said they have gazed down from their 11th floor balcony only to see a muddy plume of turbid water gradually spreading into the waters of the Ortega River. The sediment-filled water, which emanated from the Ortega Park construction site, flowed under the Lakeshore Drive bridge into the small creek that runs alongside their high-rise condominium development and into the Ortega River. The couple expressed concern that increased sediment in the creek would raise the water level, kill nearby trees and wildlife, and cause flooding that might again damage their ground-floor garage, as had happened during Hurricane Irma.

“This has changed the complexion of how high the water is, even on a normal high tide. If we have a hurricane or one of those king tides, we might have garages that will get flooded out. The status of the canal should be kept as it was pre-construction. It needs to be restored. We don’t want to stop the mall, but we want to be good stewards of the environment and the river. We’ve lived here 30 years, and this is the second time this has happened and done ecological damage,” said Sharon Light, referring to renovations made by Dewberry Group to the Roosevelt Mall two decades ago. “The first time, they got away with it. This time it’s even worse,” she said. 

On Aug. 6, Duggan met with the Lights at their Ortega home to discuss the drainage situation. During the meeting, Duggan said he “definitely” intended to contact the DEP and the St. Johns Water Management District about the violations. “The regulatory enforcement agencies need to do their job,” he said, adding he did not think that the Coronavirus pandemic had been the cause of any delay. “I will make sure the regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over this will enforce the laws,” he said.

Since the meeting in early August, another plume occurred said Duggan. On Aug. 27, he joined City Councilman Al Ferraro, Dawn Motes, president of Marietta Sand, and the Lights in another private meeting at their Ortega home. Although Ortega is represented on the City Council by Randall DeFoor, Ferraro told Duggan he had convened the meeting because he had some investment in the problem due to his role as chairman of the city’s Waterways Commission. 

“During the meeting, Dawn said her company had expended approximately $50,000 to put down temporary asphalt to help reduce the runoff of lime rock dust and residue that was being created by the renovation of the mall,” Duggan said, adding that the asphalt had been taken up and the lime rock base had been left to be repaved later when the mall was finished. “Dawn said she had put in the temporary asphalt in an effort to resolve the problem, even though she was not required to do it and would not be paid back,” he said.

Motes also outlined several struggles her company has had in dealing with Dewberry Group, the property owner, Duggan said. “She said there are many instances where some conflict would arise as it relates to the plans, and she has to stop work and seek guidance from the owner and cannot get them to respond,” he said. “For example, she said there was an easement for the benefit of AT&T underground in the parking lot and her company pulled the asphalt up before learning about the easement, which they didn’t know about. The engineers who designed the project didn’t know the lines were in place, so the work had to stop while AT&T and Comcast were contacted to give a temporary construction easement to do the work. The result was everything coming to a standstill causing lime rock and dirt to be exposed when it rained. Dawn was saying that she couldn’t force AT&T and Comcast to pay attention to the problem and give them the construction easement. She said, ‘My hands are tied until they act.’” Duggan said.

During the meeting, Motes also mentioned the city has a 54-inch stormwater drain line in back of the mall between Weise’s Pharmacy and Publix. The line handles stormwater from several neighborhoods to the north and west, and that drain line feeds into the exact same canal, Duggan said. Marietta Sands plans to install several baffle boxes on the mall property where the stormwater goes into filtering before the water travels into the canal, he explained.

“Her point was that once the mall project is done, runoff from the mall will be treated through those baffle boxes, while the 54-inch drain line has no treatment and is quite old. She said the drain line is 40 to 50 years old and is fed by stormwater inlets that are no longer operating at peak efficiency,” Duggan said, noting that Motes recommended that since the mall was already a construction site, it might be a good idea for the city to put in some baffle boxes of its own on that line while construction is underway. 

The City of Jacksonville Public Works Department is aware of the pipe, said Marjorie Dennis, public communications officer for the city. “Prior to the Roosevelt Mall construction, no sediment or other issues were occurring with this pipe,” Dennis said in an email. “There are no plans to replace or alter the pipe. No baffle boxes are planned, and the current construction is for the mall and not for the City of Jacksonville.”

Jimmy Orth, executive director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said his organization is often frustrated by ongoing violations at construction projects like Ortega Park. “We just don’t have the enforcement mechanism in place that can serve as a deterrent, and we don’t always have the commitment from the contractors to have the BMPs – best management practices – implemented and working effectively,” he said.

“The problem is each one of these violations has not only a significant impact on the ecology of the Ortega River and our waterways, but also an economic impact. Every time one of these incidents happens, we’re not only silting in the creeks, but we are also smothering creatures on the river bottom and adding turbidity to the river, which can be harmful to wildlife. It’s expensive to dredge when it becomes necessary. I’ve seen it on numerous occasions. People lose access at low tide to their docks and that is a huge economic penalty. It can mean a loss of property values.  The cost to prevent this is not exorbitant. There are means that developers can employ. It’s not a cost-prohibitive issue for developers to resolve before it happens. The problem is that it is cost prohibitive to fix the problem after it occurs,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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