Dredging Plan Stirs Worry; Many St. Johns Docks Could Be Destroyed

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon, Shorelines staff writer

Dozens of the 300 docks extending into the Intracoastal Waterway channel from the Jacksonville border south into St. Johns County could be destroyed during a massive dredging project and others will have to be shortened, federal officials said this week.

About 250 people packed into a public meeting Tuesday night at Landrum Middle School in Ponte Vedra Beach where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to inform homeowners about the $10 million project, which is expected to begin next year.

Corps officials estimated about three dozen of the 300 docks along the stretch of waterway could extend too far into the federally owned channel. They also said more docks may not have been properly permitted and that some could be damaged or destroyed as tons of sand and silt are scooped from the waterway's bottom.

"I'm with the government and I'm here to help," said Major Erik Stor, corps deputy district engineer. His facetious opening statement was intended to ease the tension in the room and drew chuckles from most of the crowd.

But few felt they were being helped by a project that will remove 2 million cubic yards of silt and muck from the waterway for 11 miles from the Duval County line south to just south of the Palm Valley Bridge.

Corps officials also announced that while they have the dredge barge in the area for the project, which could take a year, they'll also dredge the waterway in Jacksonville in a small area surrounding the Atlantic Boulevard bridge.

"When they go in and remove the silt, our dock may cave in. It may not," said Garry Phillips, a Roscoe Boulevard resident and vice president of the Palm Valley Community Association.

Phillips echoed many residents' worries that the dredging project could wreck many docks -- legally permitted or not -- when it begins in May 2005. The angle of the channel dredging will let silt deposited under docks for years slide down into the middle of the channel, said Rick McMillen, project manager for the corps.

The dredging will provide more depth for boats around docks, but many docks could lose their pilings once the silt, as thick as 2 or 3 feet, loosens. In addition, there'll be a "huge" dredge barge operating 24 hours a day and seven days a week to clear the 125-foot-wide channel, corps officials explained.

Phillips acknowledged his dock was built without the proper permits. He said he'll go through the special permitting process the corps has set up for residents such as him.

"But I don't know how the dock was built," Phillips said after the meeting, noting he bought his home about three years ago.

That uncertainty, shared by many of the homeowners, adds to skepticism about the corps' project, said Phillips.

"I think the people here are trying to do a good job of explaining it to our community," Phillips said. "Unfortunately, I think they're hiding behind some of the laws and the rules and regulations. They aren't being totally forthcoming or willing to consider extenuating circumstances. …