At long last, time to celebrate bright future for Bradenton's Wares Creek

August 14, 2012 

The mixed reaction to the completion of Wares Creek dredging is understandable given the high expectations and confusion over the scope of this portion of the flood-control project. Some neighborhood residents wished more sediment had been removed.

But after decades of dashed hopes and false starts on cleaning up the mud- and debris-clogged waterway, now the city of Bradenton can forge ahead with grander plans for the historic neighborhood.

Only several weeks ago, the City Council decided to purchase eight parcels of property in the Wares Creek neighborhood and place them in reserve for future development.

But the two acres of property near Ballard Elementary School could provide immediate public access to the creek, a boon to kayakers and canoeists. While the city has yet to develop concrete plans for the site, a park with playground equipment and picnic tables alongside a small dock and boat launch would be welcome.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' announcement of the completion of dredging last week brings one portion of an overly long saga to an end, one that dates all the way back to the 1960s.

Charlie Hunsicker puts this into perfect perspective. Manatee County's director of natural resources called the completion "an important milestone for which many had given up hope of ever accomplishing."

We second his congratulations to the contractor, the Corps and various county employees who contributed to this project. And we offer ours to Hunsicker for his shepherding of this vital flood protection project, still a long way from final completion as it winds further down the creek into Cedar Hammock.

Bradenton's City Council, other city officials and Manatee County commissioners deserve kudos, too, for their perseverance and persistence in achieving this goal. Congressman Vern Buchanan, who helped secure final federal funding, also merits thanks.

This first phase of the $51.8 million Cedar Hammock-Wares Creek flood control project covered the creek from the Manatee Avenue bridge south to the Ninth Avenue span. Like others in the community, we would have appreciated the removal of the high mud bank north of the Manatee bridge, too. But the Corps is not in the beautification business, and this sediment does not contribute to the flooding threat.

Creekside residents would have enjoyed dredging closer to seawalls and docks, but here again the Corps' singular concern is public improvements, not private ones.

That's unfortunate for those residents, but taxpayers cannot be expected to foot that additional cost. Or be held liable for potential damage to private property should close dredging undermine those structures.

This is not a unique situation. Manatee County came under sharp criticism five years ago when canal dredging in Warner's Bayou left property owners dismayed that sediment near seawalls and docks was not removed.

With four aging bridges over Wares Creek scheduled to be replaced -- work on the Ninth Avenue span began last month -- the neighborhood will be far less susceptible to flooding. Those bridges, narrow at the base, restrict stormwater flow and force heavy rains into yards and buildings.

With all these improvements, the Wares Creek neighborhood stands ready to become quite an attractive place to live. That good vibe could very well spread, too.

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