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Channel dredging forecast for the fall

Yes, they are going to dredge the Eastpoint Channel, and

But it hasn’t been easy, and it’s still not clear when.

Alan Pierce, the longtime county administrator who has been
working with the Army Corps of Engineers in recent years to advance the county’s
pursuit of the dredging, vented his frustration with the process to county
commissioners April 6, going so far as to advocate not using the Corps on
future projects.

“I question whether it’s worth using the Army Corps in the
future. It’s been a nightmare,” he said, adding that because this is a comparatively
small projects in the Corps’ scheme of things, “it’s an inconvenience and
irritation on their part to deal with us.”

He said Corps staffers have been working with Washington to
push the needed memorandum of agreement through the Congressional Budget Office,
while others have been working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
on the terms of the Eastpoint spoil design. The Corps is also working on the Two-Mile
dredging permit with FDEP, he said.

“The latest variation to the spoil design is the creation of
a vegetated fringe along the disposal field to stabilize the perimeter,” Pierce
said. “Because the county owns the spoil disposal area, the Corps says it is the
county’s responsibility to maintain it, which entails creating and planting the
vegetated fringe.”

He said Jenna Harper, manager of the Apalachicola National Estuarine
Research Reserve, has tentatively agreed to use ANERR staff and volunteers to
plant the vegetation. County Planner Mark Curenton, who serves on the county’s
Soil Conservation Board, plans to ask the board for funds to buy the plants,
which could be about $5,000.

“The goal would be for the county to provide ANERR with a
base quantity of plants which they would grow out, so that ANERR would produce
more plants that they would use on projects they want to accomplish,” Pierce
said, noting that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission must
approve the vegetation plan.

The latest hitch, Pierce said, is that the Corps will not
initiate dredging in the county until after the peak of the 2021 hurricane
season, which is mid-September. The Corps fears that creating an unconsolidated
disposal area at the start of hurricane could lead to a repeat of what happened
in 1985, when the hurricane season moved a lot of the recently dredged material
right back into the channel.

“If this were to happen, the Corps and the county would be
out of luck, and out $5 million,” Pierce said.

County Attorney Michael Shuler has been examining the
memorandum of agreement with the Corps, and the two sides appear willing to
work out a workable timetable for paying out the $5 million that it received
out of Triumph monies for the project. The county would borrow the money
through the Florida Association of Counties, front it to the Corps, and then
when the Eastpoint Channel is dredged, and the Corps confirms it is completed,
the county would then get fully reimbursed by the Consortium, which administers
Triumph monies that serve as compensation for economic damages from the April
2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The dredging project is only supposed to take six weeks
once started, so it is not a long-term financing project,” Pierce said. “The
same scenario would repeat for the Two-Mile Channel.”

Shuler has asked that the agreement include the sovereign
immunity language established by the state of Florida, but the Corps has balked
at that, contending that they must follow the standard terms of federal

“Let’s wait and see when they send written changes,” Shuler

Commission Chairman Ricky Jones pressed for a firm commencement
date, and it remains uncertain.

“I’ve been asked by several people that they’ve heard it’s
the county holdup, but that’s not the case apparently,” said Commissioner
Jessica Ward. “We are trying to get this done, and we’re getting hit by
barricades and roadblocks and unnecessary delays that are not on the county’s

“It seems like excuse after excuse. And I too would like to
get a date nailed down,” she said. “These charter boats and fishermen need to
have a way out, that they don’t have to worry about getting their boat stuck.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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