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First phase of Wares Creek project gathering steam

BRADENTON -- Heavy equipment has begun to appear at Bradenton’s former City Hall site as work on the first phase of the $51.8 million Cedar Hammock-Wares Creek flood control project gathers steam.

The lot at 15th Street West and Manatee Avenue West has shed its coat of weeds, is paved smooth with asphalt and sealed to better control and collect water.

Monday, various types of bulldozers and diggers covered the lot.

Under construction are short barrier walls around the site to contain the dewatering system and prevent any water leaks during processing of the debris dug from the creek, according to Amanda Ellison, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is spearheading the project.

Dredging is expected to begin early next month, Ellison said.

When it starts, the debris will be taken to the former City Hall site, where processing equipment slated to arrive during the next two or three weeks will remove the water and separate sand from muck, she said.

The dried muck will be trucked to a landfill.

Monday, Corps surveyors were doing “pre-dredging surveys,” studies designed to measure material in the creek to be dredged, Ellison said.

About the time dredging begins, the Corps plans to begin removing mangrove trees clogging the creek between the 7th/8th and 9th Avenue bridges, Ellison said. The removal is expected to take one or two months, she said.

The 32-foot dredge, named “T-Muskrat,” or “Little Muskrat” in the Cajun vernacular, appeared in the creek for the Nov. 14 groundbreaking, but has been idle so far, and will remain so until the dewatering system is ready to operate, Ellison said.

“Currently, there is a crew of approximately 10 people setting up the dewater site and installing equipment,” she said. “When dredging and mangrove removal begin in early January, there will be about 20 people working at the site.”

“Everybody is anxious to get the pump going, but they’ve got to do preliminary stuff first,” said Russ Phelps, 72, a retired resident of DeSoto Towers, at 1523 6th Ave. W., who was sitting on a bench overlooking the dewatering site.

“This is something really exciting,” he added.

Phase 1 is designed to clear out sediment and to deepen the creek. Future phases will entail widening the creek from 17th Avenue West south to Cortez Road, with the total project length reaching almost 5 miles, officials have said.

Another immediate neighbor of the site wondered whether the process will be smelly.

Robert Burns, who operates businesses from a historic, 1923 former home at 1505 6th Ave. W., noted that the creek emits quite a smell during low tide,

“I expect it’ll be like low tide on steroids,” he guessed.

The view is not quite as scenic as it was 28 years ago, either, when he bought the property overlooking what was then Bradenton’s City Hall, he said.

“We’re a sludge pit now,” Burns said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.