Beachside cities seek state funds for canal dredging

Satellite Beach and Indian Harbour Beach have joined forces on a $7.3 million request to the state to help pay for canal dredging in the areas impacted by a “legacy” of muck build-up and incidents like the Irma-related release of sewage.

The proposed project in the Grand Canal and adjoining areas will remove 499,156 cubic yards of muck, which ranges 3 to 5 feet in depth, 60,000 pounds of nitrogen and 1,200 pounds of phosphorus.

The cities contribute to the Save Our Lagoon Fund and are planning to cover up to 65 percent of the project with those local dollars in partnership with the county. However, they need the state appropriation of $7.3 million for the remaining 35 percent of the nearly $21 million project.

To that end, Florida House Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Republican who represents District 51, on Feb. 5 submitted a bill in the state Legislature for the funding in the current budget year.

The dredging project is a critical part of the overall plan to save the lagoon, which is making progress on several fronts, said Satellite Beach City Manager Courtney Barker.

“Our city has come very far in reducing our stormwater pollution, well beyond state and federal requirements. Additionally, we removed the last street of private septic tanks by installing a sewer line (at our expense) two years ago. Our next target is the pollution in our canals,’’ she said.

The canals in question canals were often the location of the sewer discharges that have occurred in the last 10 years – including during and after Hurricane Irma – and have years of stormwater runoff sediments and nutrients sitting in 3 to 5 feet of muck, she said.

When that “legacy load” of pollution that is sitting on the bottom of the lagoon gets disturbed, it “fluxes” into the water column, giving the algae a lot of nutrients to feed on and creating the blooms that ultimately result in large scale fish kills.

“It is a huge endeavor, but one that really needs to be completed to improve the water quality in the area and in the larger IRL,” Barker said.

Indian Harbour Beach City Manager Mark Ryan said the single year allocation for this budget year will need to be monitored and supported through the legislative process.

“The thing that everyone needs to understand is as of today, there are 1,034 bills already including a myriad of local funding requests. What will help (the local bill stand out) is we have funded the lion’s share of the project with the half-cent local sales tax. Our citizens overwhelming voted for the half-cent sales tax and that’s a significant portion of the project,’’ Ryan said.

The Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan and half-percent sales tax was approved by 62 percent of the voters, and muck dredging is slated to use approximately half of the funds dedicated for restoration.

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