BRADENTON -- The seawall along Wares Creek may be the latest hurdle in getting the federal project done the way the city and county had envisioned it.
County officials have contacted the Army Corps of Engineers about the federal agency’s policy to stay at least 25 feet away from seawalls during dredge projects. For the Wares Creek project, that could mean a much narrower channel within the existing channel than local officials had envisioned.
The county learned that the first-phase dredging may have been scaled back after it offered the federal agency a discounted price for sending some of the dredged material to the Lena Road Landfill.
The amount of mud and silt to be removed from the creek bed is signficantly less than what was originally planned: down from 200,000 cubic yards to 37,200 cubic yards. And a 25-foot dredging construction set-back from seawalls lining the Wares Creek basin will make the new channel far narrower than the county expected.
The county, which spent $5.7 million to acquire the former city hall land as a temporary staging and dredge material dewatering site, is still trying to figure out what it all means.
Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s director of natural resources, has sent the Corps a list of questions to try to get clarity on the project, set to begin in August.
“We don’t know if it has been scaled back,” Hunsicker said Tuesday. “We are waiting to hear back from the Corps.”
The Corps has a policy to stay 25 feet back from a seawall, he said, but the county had not been informed of the policy when the federal project was first approved.
The Corps signed a $3.5 million contract on the first phase of dredging earlier this month.
“Project work under this significant reduction in scope will create a “center cut channel” through the middle of mud flats of lower Wares Creek exposed at low tide as viewed from the Manatee Ave., rendering the dredging project incomplete for all appearances,” Hunsicker wrote in an email to officials detailing the county’s concerns. “We have not been informed why the scope of the project as permitted was reduced from 200,000 yards without consultation with the local sponsor and then further reduced from a final design of 52,272 yards to a project scope awarded to the contractor 37,700 yards.”
Because the project is federal and not local, county and city officials are just finding out some of the details.
The over-arching questions are how much dredge material will be removed and what the actual dredging will look like in the Wares Creek basin south of Manatee Avenue.
“If this were a local project, we would have the answers to all of these questions,” Hunsicker said.
Hunsicker said he hopes the Corps will reconsider the 25-foot setback even if it needs an engineering study to show that dredging closer to the seawall will not do any harm.
That could be a hard sell, Hunsicker acknowledged, given the condition of the seawalls in some areas -- “which look like they are being held up by mud.”
“There would have to be an engineering report to show how close they could dredge,” Hunsicker said. “It would also have to address who would be responsible for the seawall if it breaks or falls or sloughs off.”
The seawalls are vital to the neighborhood there because there is no transition between the creek and the elevation of the shoulder and the roadbed.
“The elevation of road bed and the shoulder must be significantly higher than water levels in Wares Creek,” Hunsicker said.
If the county can’t convince the Corps that dredging closer to the seawall is safe, then the dredging project will look incomplete, even though it will allow a greater amount of water to flow through the creek bed and prevent most of the flooding.
Even if the channel is narrower than the county had planned, there is still “plenty of sediment to be removed,” Hunsicker said. And removing that sediment will help to control flooding along Ware’s Creek.
“We’ll forever be struggling with the perception of how much mud should you have removed to how much mud did you have to remove,” Hunsicker said, “to judge ourselves on whether the project appears to be complete.”