After delays of more than 15 years, the dredging of Eastpoint and Two-Mile channels looks to begin sometime before the end of April.
County commissioners Tuesday morning unanimously approved a request by Alan Pierce, the former county planner who has worked closely with the Army Corps of Engineers since the congressionally-approved dredge monies were shifted away from Franklin County to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The cost of the project has now increased from the anticipated $5 million, to be paid for out of already approved Florida Gulf Consortium monies that stem from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It now will cost an estimated $6 million, and while Pierce said he has received word that the additional $1 million will also be funded by the consortium, approval may be weeks away. He secured moving forward with interim short-term financing for the additional $1 million.
Erin Griffith, the county’s finance director, told commissioners that she, Pierce and Commission Chairman Ricky Jones met with the Corps on a March 9 conference call and worked out details of a process that will see a consortium check for $5 million going through Leon County and on to Franklin by the first of next week.
A county check for $6 million will then be relayed to the Corps, and after that it will be 30 to 45 days before the dredging begins by Mike Hooks LLC.
Commissioner Jessica Ward voiced the county’s frustration at the Corps’ repeated delays, and expressed concern the dredge was now getting closer to hurricane season.
“I am tired of excuses,” she said. “We have got to get this done for our community, for charter fishermen, for people who work on the water.”
Pierce suggested the county consider an alternative way of handling dredging maintenance in the years to come..
“If there’s other ways to do this dredging on a more regular interval, the costs wouldn’t be so high and we would control the timeline,” he said. “We’re a hostage to the Corps as long as they’re controlling the contract.”
One possible strategy is to push for the channel to become part of the Corps’ regularly dredged navigation system, as opposed to it remaining a strictly local channel that needs specially-authorized funding from Congress.
“Only twice in 32 years has Congress allocated (additional monies),” Pierce said.
He added that there would be some risk to the county if it chose to bypass the Corps and handle dredging itself.
“We won’t ever get Corps money again, we’ll be on our own,” he said. “But what’s the risk? That we wait every 25 years?”