Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bulkhead to boost Maria Sanchez banks--- looks plum unnatural, not unlike a "swimming pool" with ugly white blocks

Bulkhead to boost Maria Sanchez banks

Goal is to improve quality of lake, prevent erosion

Publication Date: 02/26/09

Construction of a 3-foot-high concrete bulkhead surrounding Lake Maria Sanchez has begun and will last until late spring, St. Augustine officials said Wednesday.

John Regan, chief operations officer for the city, said all the parts of the Lego-like wall add up to 1,600 feet long.

Directly in front of the bulkhead, a littoral area -- a tidal ecological zone along the shore -- will be created and planted with black mangrove, needle rush, spartina and cord grass -- all types of wetland vegetation.

"The No. 1 goal is to maintain and improve the lake's quality. The No. 2 goal is shoreline stabilization," Regan said. "Some erosion was particularly bad."

The project was conceived when the community realized that the old weir under South Street Bridge was not easily operable and that as a result the 8.6-acre lake occasionally flooded its banks.

Also, the stagnant water heated up in the summer, losing dissolved oxygen and killing thousands of fish.

A 2006 St. Johns River Water Management District grant paid for a new weir with instruments to read dissolved oxygen and prevent kills.

"The instruments help when we see the lake heading for a eutrophic [low-oxygen] state. This lake has a brackish, diverse ecosystem, one we monitor and watch," Regan said.

The lake becomes refreshed when its water is drawn down and replaced with fresher water from the marsh.

The surrounding property owners are happy that this is finally being completed, Regan said.

But at least one Lincolnville resident, Judith Seraphin, a neighborhood advocate, groused about the project.

A resident of South Street, she said, "The lake looks like a swimming pool now. Why did we need white (blocks)? They could have used a natural stone color. It's just so jarring."

Retired science and math teacher Ned Shuler of St. Augustine, immediate past president of St. Johns Audubon, said he didn't see a great deal of bird habitat being lost with this new installation.

"There's not a lot of bird habitat on the banks of the lake," Shuler said. "There's plenty on the marsh side, which is really a great habitat for wading birds. But the landscape is manicured all the way around. I've never seen a great number of ducks on the lake, but I haven't consciously surveyed it."

Roger Van Ghent of St. Augustine, also a former president of St. Johns Audubon, said he had no specific problem with the bulkhead, but he hoped the littoral zone would be created with two depths, "one about 6 inches deep for short-legged birds and one about a foot deep for long-legged birds."

Regan said the lake isn't pristine. The minor dredging work on the wall unearthed many decades-old bottles.

"Lake Maria Sanchez receives water from 80 downtown acres and has collected urban runoff for 100 years," he said. "This project will age and become part of the community."

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