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Bayou Chico Cleanup On The Drawing Board

Public comment is being gathered through early March on plans to remove sediments from Bayou Chico using funds from the BP oil spill settlement.

The draft plan includes $12.6 million from the Gulf Consortium for the Bayou Chico Contaminated Sediment Remediation Project.

“For the past 100-150 years, Bayou Chico has been a working waterfront,” says Program Manager Matt Posner. “Lots of shipbuilding, previously used for lumber activity. And with that development there’s been a lot of degradation of the sediments in Bayou Chico.”

The project was unanimously selected by the Escambia County Commission as the county's sole project for the State Expenditure Plan, or SEP.

The Consortium voted early on to distribute Florida’s Spill Impact Component, aka “Pot-3” monies, equally among the 23 member counties from Escambia to Monroe. The counties are in charge of implementing their own approaches to determine which projects get the highest priority. That’s where Escambia’s $12.6 million is coming from for the bayou.

Escambia County, through its Natural Resources Management Department, is working on a couple of studies, one last summer involved mapping out the soft sediment, or “muck” that’s in the bayou.

“Our Water Quality Division determined the volume to be two million cubic yards,” Posner said. “This spring, we’ll be working hopefully with the University of West Florida to analyze the contaminant level in that sediment. That way we can determine what the scope and cost of the project will be.”

The two studies are expected to meet four goals:

  • Quantify and qualify the volume of sediment;
  • Identify the contaminants,
  • Look at possible remediation methods,
  • Restore Bayou Chico.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Matt Posner, Program Manaager for the Bayou Chico project.

Next up is a series of public hearings on the work – none of it to be held in Pensacola. Posner points to some “back and forth” at the consortium level.

“[The consortium] determined that they would hold only two in-public meetings; one in Panama City and one in Tampa,” said Posner. “Unfortunately, it’s not in Pensacola but it’s as close as we can get. There will be a couple of webinars as well.”

Those two webinars are set for February 1 from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, and on February 15 from 1-3 p.m. Information is available at www.myescambia.com/restoringbayouchico. The public comment period closes March 2.

“At that time, the consultant team for the Gulf Consortium will review those public comments; incorporate any meaningful public comment, and present it back to the Consortium Board of Directors in April,” said Posner. “At that time, the final SEP will be approved and sent to the Governor’s office for approval.”

From the Governor’s Office, the proposal then goes to the federal level, for review, and the county hopes the blessing, of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. And does that mean it’s a bit early to map out starting and completion dates? Posner says, yes – and no.

“We have additional funding through the Restoration Council, around $300,000, to do the design work,” Posner said. “So that will kick off hopefully later summer or early fall. We expect actual on-the-ground work hopefully within five years.”

One side benefit from the project, says Matt Posner, could be its use in the future as a template for similar projects.

“It’s possible,” said Posner. “Bayou Chico is one of, if not the most polluted, bayous in our area. It has been on the Impaired Waters List for longer than any other system we have here. This will be an interesting step in restoring the waterway. So we’ll see how it goes.”