BRADENTON -- The sight of bulldozers and construction crews in Ballard Park and Wares Creek neighborhoods in West Bradenton will become a familiar sight in the new year, and residents have mixed emotions on the impact of the completed projects.
As soon as February, Phase III A of the Cedar Hammock-Wares Creek flood control project will be under way to widen the seawall about 25 feet and deepen it about a foot from 21st Avenue West to 30th Avenue West. Widening the creek will increase the capacity for flood control.
The $51.8 million project was designed to reduce flooding along Bradenton's Wares Creek neighborhood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' contractors finished dredging 37,000 cubic yards of material from the flood-prone creek in early August.
Steve Blanchard lives at the corner of 15th Street West and 30th Avenue West, just yards away from the creek. He says he noticed crews at the creek surveying the area.
"It's not going to be quite so disruptive, but it is a pretty big project," he said.
The phase work also will include dewatering, storm drainage modifications and demolition of existing structures. Manatee County acquired 97 parcels, some partial and whole, as well as easement properties, to be demolished or removed.
Blanchard, a fisherman, has noticed an improved quality of sea life in the Manatee River, which might be attributed to the dredging phase.
"The river is more alive than it's been in a while," he said.
Blanchard is supportive of the project's impact on the environment.
"I like what they already did downtown," he said, referring to the dredging. "That was some nasty bottom they had."
A majority of the deepening and remodeling will occur in the Bradenton Tropical Palms mobile home community, between 21st and 26th Avenue West. Though the creek runs directly through the retirement community, which is in the midst of peak season for snowbirds, residents are OK with the project going forward.
"It will clean it up," said Linda Fillier, a 12-year resident and president of the Bradenton Tropical Palm board of directors. "One of the bank sidewalls had collapsed and that will all be cleaned up. We all knew it was going to happen."
Some, however, aren't so confident in the project's blueprint. Mary Alta Griffin has lived in the Wares Creek neighborhood since her father purchased a house there in 1950. Griffin, who still lives in the family's house near the corner of 15th Avenue West and 21st Street West, said the project overlooks a bottleneck dilemma between Ninth and 20th avenues west.
"It's ridiculous," she said. "Why don't they do it piece by piece and go all the way up? Clean it out as you go. Don't leave a bottleneck. They widen the mouth at Manatee River, yet still let water build up to the south of us."
Phase II of the project, which was repositioned to start after the third phase, will be the clearing and snagging of vegetation between Ninth and 17th avenues west. Phase III 'B' will entail widening the seawall from 30th Avenue West to Cortez Road and is expected to begin this summer.
Griffin said the city is paying for its mistakes of building too quickly.
"We never had a problem with flooding until they built all those buildings and built over the creek," she said. "That is a drainage canal. I can see this place flooding like crazy when they dig it out upstream. This is a big long bottleneck."
The Ninth Avenue West bridge over Wares Creek reopened Dec. 20 after months of construction to better facilitate water flow. The city will also replace bridges at 12th and 14th avenues to ease the flow of water in Wares Creek and make drainage improvements on 20th Street West.
Elsewhere in the area, a redevelopment experiment in the Ballard Park neighborhood offers the city an opportunity to build a rowing facility and public park. In early December, Manatee developer John Neal and his wife, Rebecca, sold seven parcels of property in the Ballard Park neighborhood for $284,661 to the City of Bradenton. The property was estimated to be worth $1.325 million. Neal would like to see a rowing facility built at the historic white house at the corner of Eighth Avenue West and 17th Street and use the other parcels for a public park in efforts to revitalize the neighborhood around Ballard Elementary School.
Susan Street has lived next to the historic house since 1981. She said redeveloping the area would bring wanted attention to the neighborhood, which consists of several boarded-up, vacant homes.
"It's been an attraction nuisance," she said. "My home has been broken into because of the other boarded-up houses."
The land sold to the city by Neal is said to be worth $1 million. Street applauded the developer and city's idea to enhance access to the water.
"Anything that generates interest in the recreational boating community is wonderful," said Street. "The more people on the water, the more people will know of our water quality, fish quality and environment."
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams