Log jam project on Big Escambia Creek receives federal funding, progress update
By By Robert Blankenship
Members of the Army Corps of Engineers, Florida's Three Rivers RC&D, Alabama's Gulf Coast RC&D and other officials from both states met Thursday to officially accept federal funding and update progress on a log jam project for Big Escambia Creek.
Corps of Engineers' District Engineer Col. Robert Keyser was on hand at the meeting to sign agreements with both Alabama and Florida officials for the disbursement of funds for the log jam project. The federal government agreed to pay 65 percent of the estimated $6.4 million dollar project.
According to Gulf Coast RC&D's Charles Ramsay, sponsor for the Alabama portion of the project, local groups need to match the federal funds with $237,000. He said right now they have raised $155,000 through the help of Escambia County and the City of Flomaton.
"We feel like we are in good shape," Ramsey said. "We are seeking funding through the Delta Regional Authority and have been busy working to obtain easements. We feel the project is going well."
With funding now in place, officials said that final easements should be completed in the upcoming month, allowing for the bidding to be let in May. With that schedule, work could begin as early as June, said Charles Owens of the Corps of Engineers.
This year marks the fifth year of ongoing
efforts to make the logjam project a reality. Organizers from Alabama and Flordia began working on the project in 1998.
Those at the meeting praised the efforts to relieve Big Escambia Creek and said it will have benefits for citizens on both sides of the state line.
"The last time anything of this magnitude happened that would impact both states and the mirror cities of Flomaton and Century was when the overpass was built over the railroad, connecting the two states with by a four-lane highway," said Escambia County (Ala.) Commissioner Larry White. "This project is of that magnitude."
White said the project should ease flooding within the the town of Flomaton and maintain Hwy. 29 as an escape route for panhandle residents during hurricanes.
He said the way it is now, the route could be flooded, forcing Floridians to find other routes to the inland.
Big Escambia Creek became blocked by a logjam in the 1960s which caused the creek to change directions. The Corps of Engineers looks to excavate around the logjam in Alabama and then, in Florida, moving the channel back to its original path. Several structures will be built to prevent erosion of the creek bank and secondary diversion structures will be built that is expected to produce additional wetlands.
"We will start near the Fannie Road Bridge and build diversion structions that will divert the water back into its original locations as determined by 1940s photographs," said Keith Guthrie, engineer with Baskerville-Donovan, Inc.
The engineers feel that the new creek path will not need maintenance, but that logs may need to be cut out every few years to prevent another jam.
When the project is finished, it is expected that a person could take a boat along Big Escambia Creek all the way north to Flomaton.
Ramsay called the project "one of a kind" in the benefits it should produce.
"The benefits of this project makes it unique," he said. "We will see environmental progress by moving the creek back to its original path which should prevent sediment down stream and will solve a lot of Flomaton's flooding problems which will help their economy."
Keyser said this is also a landmark project for the Corps of Engineers as they will be able to make a difference for the communities in a timely manner.
"This is a cornerstone project for the Mobile District. This is where our future is. Instead of seeing results for our children and grandchildren, we are looking to see results in real time. We plan to use this project as a showpiece that by bringing groups together with similar concerns and interests, we can make a difference for the people of our communities today," he said.
Keyser added that the work of the Three Rivers RC&D, the Gulf Coast RC&D and government officials in both states have made this project possible and shown The Mobile District, which is the largest district of the Corps of Engineers, what can be done when organizations come together to meet a common goal.
"We have Alabama suing us, Florida suing us, Georgia suing us – all over water. It is nice to see two states recognizing the benefits of working together and getting things done," Keyser said.
Ramsay said a groundbreaking would be held when construction begins on the project.