Finally, after repeated delays and diverted funding dating back nearly two decades, the long-awaited dredging of the Eastpoint Channel has met its start date and is ready to go.
Earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers’ contractor on the project, Mike Hooks LLC out of Westlake, Louisiana, began staging equipment at the county-owned site where the pavilion used to stand, in keeping with the time frame estimated by Waylon Register, site manager of the Corps’ Panama City office.
After everything is readied, the dredging of the Eastpoint Channel, which runs from Barber’s Seafood to the county boat ramp, will commence within the next four to six weeks, by the end of November or start of December, according to Franklin County Commission Chairman Ricky Jones.
A couple weeks after that start, the dredging will begin on the Two-Mile channel, which runs from the boat ramp at Olan “Buddy” Ward Park all the way to the Apalachicola River.
The two projects will then run concurrently, with a combined cost of about $7 million, and are expected to be completed by early February. The county’s share of the federal project will come from $5 million it received from the Gulf Consortium, a public entity responsible for doling out BP monies from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Florida’s 23 Gulf Coast counties.
In addition to opening local waterways for recreation, dredge material from the Eastpoint and Two Mile channels, dug between 6 and 8 feet deep, will be used to construct a 26-acre beneficial use site, essentially a tidal marsh, which will keep sediment within the system and provide critical wildlife habitat.
The project marks the first dredge of the channel since 1985. The last time the county had a firm commitment for federal money was in 2005, but Congress diverted that to New Orleans to help address the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
“I’m elated,” said Jones, noting that the project could hinder some boat traffic in the short run, but will greatly enhance it once completed.
“I wish my dad was alive to see it,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”