Byline: terry brown
Dale Lovell says when he looked over the Cunningham Creek bridge on Jan. 24, he knew the waterway was in distress.
As the St. Johns River Water Management District regulatory scientist drove eastward to a small bridge on Flora Branch Boulevard, the water was a thick, milky white color in the normally tannin-tinged creekbed. Lovell figured the murkiness could only have one source -- Aberdeen, a 2,018-home development under construction near the headwaters to the tributary that flows roughly 3 1/2 meandering miles before entering the St. Johns River.
"I could see the creek was quite turbid at the bridge in Julington Creek Plantation," Lovell said. "Once you start the discharge of turbid water, it's like a freight train going through the waterways and wetlands. It's going to show."
The Water Management District issued Aberdeen Development, LLC a turbidity violation letter on Jan. 24. A copy of the letter obtained by the Sun called for the developer to immediately cease the discharge or face up to a $10,000 fine per day for each violation. The letter also stated that failure to comply could result in a court order requesting construction at the development to stop.
Turbidity refers to how opaque the water is. The greater the amount of total suspended solids -- sand or clay, for example -- in the water, the murkier it appears and the higher the measured turbidity, Lovell said.
The Water Management District was contacted about the problem on Jan. 24 by District 1 County Commissioner Cyndi Stevenson after residents complained about murkiness in the waterway.
Lovell contacted Aberdeen's engineering firm, England Thims & Miller Inc. about the violation. Lovell said they agreed there was a problem and would take measures to correct it immediately.
Scott Wild, a spokesman for England Thims & Miller, said Wednesday one of the three on-site contractors was discharging turbid water, on or about the week of Jan. 23, through a pump into Cunningham Creek. The contractors shut it down after being notified they were in violation, Wild said.
"We are taking it extremely serious, and immediately had the contractor shut down their pump," Wild said.
Wild added, however, that wasn't the end of the problem. Just last weekend, another contractor on the project started discharging into the creek again.
The second occurrence caught the growing ire of Stevenson, who called England Thims & Miller Project Manager James Donchez on Jan. 28 requesting him to meet her at the site that day. The pump was again turned off, but on Sunday, the milky white substance was still visible as it made its way downstream.
"My point to the developer is, if you have a contractor pumping out dirty water -- they know they were doing something illegal," an angry Stevenson said. …