A slowed drain


Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 1:01 a.m.

Rain and redesigns have slowed construction of drainage work on a flood-prone section of Hogtown Creek, prolonging threats from high water and adding to the project's $2.26 million price tag, state and local officials said.

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A crew from Watson Construction is working six-day weeks to improve the section of Hogtown Creek from east of the intersection of W. University Avenue and 34th Street south past SW 2nd Avenue. East of NW 34th Street, workers are constructing a porter dam that will divert the water flow to one side of the creek.

(MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun)

"Because of an unseasonably wet winter, it won't be finished until later this spring," said Lori Williams, project engineer with the state Department of Transportation. Williams said Wednesday the project is set for completion in April, four months behind schedule.

Final project costs could also increase with additional delays. While no cost overruns are anticipated, construction slowdowns often add to the project's bottom line, Williams said.

"They usually don't go down" during delays, she said.

For years, northern reaches of Hogtown Creek's 13,700-acre watershed have been subject to erosion, sediment accumulation and flooding. In 1996, for example, sediment levels near NW 34th Street reached historic levels, forcing creek waters to spill from the creek's banks and flood area homes, businesses and properties.

To beat back threats from encroaching stormwaters, the state's multimillion dollar project, contracted to the Gainesville-based Watson Construction, is designed to alleviate flooding to homes and businesses along the city's largest creek.

On the east and west sides of the NW 34th Street bridge near University Avenue, two 220-foot-long, 3-foot-deep sediment traps will be installed to collect sediment. Tan colored concrete cobbles will line the creek in an effort to reduce erosion and ease sediment removal. Once completed, landscapers plan to plant 42 trees to shore up the banks and improve aesthetics.

State officials contend the sediment traps will save the city money, eliminating the need to dredge large sections of the creek, instead funneling sediment to the planned traps, where removal will be more effective.

But despite the promises, critics of the project, which include Gainesville city officials, residents and landowners, say the sediment traps are an inadequate solution to a basin-wide problem.

Now, news of work delays and potential cost increases have renewed debate over construction of the controversial drainage project.

"They are ignoring the laws of nature," said Stu Pearson, the city's stormwater services manager. "It's our opinion that that project is not going to perform any better than what was there before."

Adding to the project's woes, recent rains have forced state engineers to redirect and pump stormwater from the creek downstream, steps that have slowed construction and put the area's flood-control abilities in question as spring rains approach.

"The dilemma that they find themselves in is that they started the project, they awarded it and now they are having difficulty" finishing it, Pearson said. "If they are lucky, maybe this coming year will be one of those years that we get 30 inches (of rain) versus 60."

To augment the state's solution, city planners have proposed a series of "grade-control" structures to stabilize the upper creek and its many tributaries, including Possum Creek.

The $3.1 million erosion control project, independent of the state's sediment trap construction plan, would install 180 such devices upstream from NW 34th Street bridge, helping to reduce the amount of sediment that makes its way downstream.

City planners approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for partial funding last year. A final corps decision is expected within months, city officials said.

But despite a city-planned alternative, the state's project is moving forward. And for some area residents, the state's progress doesn't bode well for Hogtown Creek's future.

"I think that this solution is probably not, in the long term, a solution that will work," said Cindy Smith, a Gainesville resident and past member of a public works committee that investigated the creek project.

"Lining a creek with cement?" she asked rhetorically, comparing the solution to a Los Angeles-style quick fix. "It's certainly not a benefit at all to the neighborhood."

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