At long last, on the verge of dredging

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Nearly 40 years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the Eastpoint Channel.

Since then, the county, together with its congressmen and congresswoman, have worked to secure the money from the Corps to do it again, as it badly needs it.

Finally, if the good Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise, which is always a possibility in hurricane-prone Florida, that dredge is going to happen sometime this fall.

It appears the last kink in a chain of events that dates back to Hurricane Katrina  is about to get unknotted, as commissioners have agreed to a proposed deal with the Corps which will enable the county to secure $1 million in federal money, and kick in $5 million of its own, to complete the dredging of the channels in Eastpoint and Apalachicola’s Two-Mile, each for roughly  $3 million.

Former County Planner Alan Pierce, who has been nose to the grindstone on the issue for as long as he’s been with the county, told commissioners Sept. 7 that after eight months of the Corps ping-ponging a proposed deal between Washington and Atlanta bureaucrats, they had offered one.

“The Corps was firm and fixed on the language, we have no way of altering it,” said Pierce. “In writing it seems to be a real problem.”

That problem, he explained, was the language appears to ask the county to pay the costs of dredging upfront, rather than waiting to get the $5 million it has coming from the Gulf Consortium, a public entity responsible for doling out BP monies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Florida's 23  Gulf Coast counties.

“We don’t have the $5 million yet, it’s in the hands of the consortium,” Pierce said. “The Corps has assured me they do not expect the $5 million upfront even though that’s what’s in the agreement, and they will invoice us per project.

“In this case I have to take the word of the Corps that they will not force us to pay $5 million upfront,” he said. “We’re sort of in a Catch-22; we need to sign the agreement and need to have faith.”

County Attorney Michael Shuler did not advise against going ahead with the agreement, and the commissioners unanimously approved the deal, which calls for the Corps to use one of its existing contractors to complete the work this fall.

“We don’t have control of the timing of this thing,” Pierce said. “The Corps has dragged it out for three years, it’s not a priority for them. If we don’t use the Corps, we have to fund everything ourselves. That’s the only problem with not using the Corps; we won’t have congressional money.”

The last time the county had a firm commitment for federal money was in 2005, secured by former U.S. Rep Allen Boyd in 2003, but Congress decided to divert it to New Orleans to help address the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“The good news is everything in New Orleans worked, flood control worked,” Pierce said. “It worked at our expense.”

In 1985, the Corps had dredged the Eastpoint channel and built a breakwater, but hurricanes back then soon altered the topography.

“It silted in pretty quickly afterwards,” Pierce said. “Now at low tide you can walk across the channel.”

There is no question once dredging is completed, and boats have access in and out of the Eastpoint shoreline, it will make the location more desirable, certainly for recreational watercraft and to some extent for the dwindling number of commercial boats that still service the Apalachicola Bay.

The idea is take the dredge spoils in Eastpoint and create a brand new marsh disposal area that will more closely resemble the land formations that are found in Apalachicola’s Two Mile.

“Those are not natural islands, those are spoil islands built up by vegetation over 40 years,” Pierce said.

He said in time these spoil islands will prove an asset for mitigating hurricane damage that may threaten Eastpoint.

Pierce said that while it looks to cost about $6 million to do Eastpoint, along with the Two-Mile Channel that runs alongside Apalachicola, “we’re hoping to get a good deal,” since the Corps will be relying on an existing contractor when they issue a task order sometime in the fall.

The Eastpoint work will be from Barber’s Seafood to the county boat ramp, while the Two-Mile channel will be from the boat ramp at Buddy Ward Park all the way to the Apalachicola River.

“Eastpoint is completely silted in,” he said. “Two-Mile has lumps in it, it needs to be evened out.”

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