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ECWCD begins construction of water control project

By Staff | Feb 8, 2011

Ground breaking at Harns Marsh: A ground breaking ceremony was held by many who attended a ceremony last week to mark the construction of a new project at Harns Marsh. Photo by Mel Toadvine

The official start of construction for the Harns Marsh Phase II Improvement Project starts this week as well as the Replacement of three critical weirs. A ceremonial ground breaking took place Feb. 4 marking the event with East County Water Control District Chairman Nate Stout acting as host to the event that attracted close to 40 people.

The ceremony and ground breaking occurred at Harns Marsh, Lehigh’s largest body of water retention. It is located just off 38th St., from Sunshine Blvd. North to Olive St., and then to 38th Street.

Harns Marsh is also a recreational area for area fishermen, hikers, and bird waters.

The main purpose of the marsh is to control flooding and water control for the area, but it is teaming with incredible wildlife, Stout said at the beginning of the ceremony under a large tent near the site.

“Did anyone see a Cara Cara or snail kite this morning?” Stout asked.

Nate Stout and Mike Bonacolta at ceremony.

“Although we are here to celebrate the start of two separate projects, they both have one common goal which is to improve water quality and water control in East County Water Control District’s system,” Stout told the group.

East County is charged with the responsibility to preserve and protect water resources in Lehigh and western Hendry County through a combination of drainage, conservation, mitigation, navigational and water management practices. The District maintains 30 culvert crossings, 22 bridges, 66 water control structures and it maintains 1,298 preserve acres with the 70,000 managed acres.

Stout said that now more than ever it is crucial that they improve the water quality, reduce flooding and work toward reducing pollution as the District begins to comply with more stringent regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

ECWCD is facing the replacement of five critical weirs over the next few years to help facilitate groundwater recharge, improve water quality and to continue to prevent flooding.

Both the Critical Weirs Project and Harns Marsh, a 578-acre reduce potential retention/ detention area play a large role in how and where water is moved in Lehigh. There are two sections of Harns marsh – the north and south marsh, and they are used to route the flow, filter, and treat water before it moves to the Orange River and then on to the Caloosahatchee River.

Water structure to be rebuilt at Harns Marsh. Photos by Mel Toadvine

“Harns Marsh has come a long way since initial construction in 1981. It not only serves as Lehigh Acres’ major stormwater retention/ detention area, but is also a lush wildlife habitat.

Phase II Improvement engineering services are being undertaken by Tetra Tech who was represented by Danny Nelson with construction services provided by Worth Contracting Inc, represented by Joe Worth. The Three Critical Weirs Project’s engineering services are being provided by AIM Engineering represented by Lee Flynn with construction services provided by Thomas Marine Construction represented by Kevin Shimp.

They were joined by ECWCD officials and visitors in the ground breaking aspect of the ceremony. The ground breaking of the new project was not far from the actual construction spot along the marsh.

Also at the ceremony were people like State Rep. Matthew Caldwell, ECWCD board members, David Deetscreek and Mike Bonacolta in addition to Stout, ECWCD staffers, David Lindsay, the district manager and Carla Ulakovic who planned the event along with other staff members. Also on hand was Damon Shelor, a past ECWCD commissioner who is in the process of forming a community support group for the marsh, Rev. Larry Gutridge, Capt. Ed Tamayo, commander of the Bravo District substation in Lehigh, and others.

Stout said that in 2010, the District began and completed Phase I improvements of Harns Marsh and yellowtail which helped to provide base flows to the Orange River, prevent flooding, provide water storage to recharged the groundwater aquifers, improve the quality of water going to the Orange River, and improve water level data collected from the site.

The addition of operable gates, controlled by a computer, allows for the ability to manage water

flow remotely.

The projects were paid for in part by a Florida CBIR grant, South Florida Water management (SFWMD) grand money for Watershed Initiatives, and ARRA stimulus loan money administered by FDEP.

Stout noted that the ECWCD was the first organization in Florida to have finished a stimulus-funded project. ECWCD Commissioners Mike Welch and Desmond Barrett were unable to attend the event.