The water management district says the project will restore degraded wetlands.
A total of 1,000 people have signed a change.org petition titled "Stop the Flagler Ditch Restoration Project," opposing the St. John's Water Management District's plan to remove a series of old mosquito control dragline ditches in the marshes on state-owned land off the Intracoastal Waterway.
"This area is not in need of restoration, as it currently provides everything that they are hoping to restore to the area."
The district calls the proposed removal a restoration project, designed to return the marshland to its natural state. But residents speaking in community meetings have said they don't trust the district's science on the matter, and don't want to deal with the disruption caused by bringing heavy earth-moving equipment out into the marshes.
"This specific area in Flagler County has, through natural succession, healed itself and is currently a healthy, thriving estuary that is home to thousands of protected black and red mangroves, saltmarsh grasses, and other vegetation which provides a perfect sanctuary for the abundant fish, birds, crustaceans, oyster reefs, otters, manatees, turtles, and much more," the text of the petition states. "This area is not in need of restoration, as it currently provides everything that they are hoping to restore to the area. This invasive process requires a large amphibious excavator to bulldoze islands, bury the mature mangroves, oak trees, cedar trees and palm trees into the water."
"[If nothing is done], the degraded area will continue to degrade, with degradation defined as loss of highly productive saltmarsh."
— St. Johns Water Management District website
The petition continues by stating that the SJRWMD does not have evidence on how long the recovery process will take, and that, although the district is " well-intentioned," it doesn't have site-specific studies of the project area.
"This project is flawed," the petition states. "It needs more time and grant money in order to do it correctly with as few negative impacts as possible. As it is, it looks more like demolition than restoration."
The SJRWMD, in a detailed frequently asked questions page about the project posted on the district's website, states that initial vegetation returns "typically within a few months," and cites time frames from a previous project at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: 10% to 30% cover was achieved within six months, and 50% to 80% cover by 18 months.
The district and other agencies determined that the water quality in the area is impaired, that the area is environmentally degraded due to the dragline ditches, and that "the degraded area will continue to degrade, with degradation defined as loss of highly productive saltmarsh," if nothing is done, according to the webpage.
"This degradation has been followed by ongoing loss of approximately 1-2 acres of saltmarsh per year," the district webpage states. "Since completion of ditching, there has been a loss of over 75 acres of saltmarsh, which translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost services (Barbier, E., et al. 2011. The value of estuarine and ecosystem services). Pushing back against this continued degradation is a key motivation for this project."
The SJRWMD Governing Board will meet and discuss the proposal at 9 a.m on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the district's headquarters at 4049 Reid Street in Palatka. The meeting can also be streamed live online at https://www.sjrwmd.com/governingboard/broadcast/.