Funding is on the way for 23 water quality projects in the Pensacola area, from Natural Resource Damage Assessment. That includes $2.1 million for Carpenter Creek’s restoration.
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson listed Carpenter Creek as his top project to receive funding from BP oil spill funds, when he was a member of the Escambia County Commission.
“I worked very hard when I was at the county to get that project moving forward,” Robinson said during his weekly news conference. “And not crossing over into this job [Mayor] I’m excited about the opportunity to really leverage some of those dollars into opportunities.
Next up is putting together a plan to spend the money.
“If a plan gets done, we’re going to have more opportunities to leverage for direct things,” said the Mayor. “Some of these things that will be both environmental improvement to both the creek and Bayou Texar, but also there will be some public amenities that can provide some of those opportunities to open up not only just our waterfront, but also our creek beds.”
NRDA is the legal process that federal and state agencies – the latter including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection -- use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and ship groundings on natural resources both along the nation's coast and throughout its interior.
“I think it shows that DEP understands the Carpenter Creek project is a good project to partner with and leverage,” Robinson said. “I think our deal now is to get with the county to get that plan up and running so that we can begin to leverage more dollars than what we’ve got here into actual projects.”
Plans for Carpenter Creek are for the restoration of the county-owned former wetland and construction of a stormwater treatment facility that flows off Olive Road. The creek’s headwaters begin at East Olive Road and run through the City of Pensacola before merging into Bayou Texar and flowing into Pensacola Bay.
“This is really a long-term project’ it is very easy to lose sight of the project, unless we continue to let people know that there are opportunities along the way to help the creek,” says City Councilwoman Sherri Myers. Her District-2 is home to the creek; on which Myers often hosts cleanup work. She calls the NRDA award the best thing to happen to the creek in a long time.
Work continues cleaning up debris, and removing invasive species -- with a little help from Mother Nature.
“In terms of releasing, for instance, the air potato beetle that is doing an incredible job of eating the air potato vines that’s [sic] very invasive, and has taken over a lot of the vegetation,” Myers said.
Among other things, the $2.1 million given to the project will pay for land acquisition, stormwater improvements and wetland/floodplain restoration, storm monitoring, and recreation. It’s expected to take about three years to complete. Myers says that will be added to eight and a half acres at the headwaters, which the county purchased a year ago.
“There is a four-acre lake on that property,” said Myers. “I’m hoping we can get some type of educational center there, so people can come there, enjoy the beauty of the headwaters, the trees, and get to know a lot about Carpenter Creek.”
Improvements are expected to reduce pollutant loads and hydrologic degradation, which will also benefit estuarine-dependent water column resources, oysters, and submerged aquatic vegetation in Bayou Texar and Pensacola Bay. Myers is hopeful the end result will include more insight to the creek’s diverse history.
“There was a famous swimming hole called ‘Aunt Jenny’s Hole’ owned by a black family," said Myers. “Blacks and whites congregated there, and swam together. This creek has a lot of meaning to the history of Pensacola. We need to tell that history.”
Myers is also urging area residents to begin an oral history of Carpenter Creek
For Mayor Grover Robinson, the opportunities don’t begin and end with the NRDA dollars. For example, projects originating from the firm hired to develop Pensacola’s waterfront.
“Things through Florida Fish and Wildlife, anytime we can work with them to improve habitat,” said Robinson. “I think when you look at some things that are going to come out of SCAPE [waterfront project], talking about the resiliency of habitat we’re dealing with. Some of these Greenshores projects that we continue to have around that will also help to stabilize our waterfront.”
The Carpenter Creek project will be implemented by DEP’s Florida Trustee Implementation Group in coordination with Escambia County. The City of Pensacola is a project partner along with Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program.