DUNEDIN – Emotions ran high at the Jan. 23 Dunedin City Commission meeting when it came time to discuss the possible dredging of East and West Cedar Creek and Lake Sperry. Residents came out in force to speak about the issue – many for the dredging, but some opposed.
The commission itself was divided but ultimately voted 3-2 to not dredge the bodies of water – a vote that was met by many boos from the audience. However, the commission did leave the possibility open to seek other ways to solve some of the problems residents complained about.
The city had hired Taylor Engineering to complete an Alternative Analysis Report on the dredging of the creek and lake. At the Jan. 23 meeting, Jon Armbruster, vice president of waterfront engineering at Taylor Engineering, and David Sites, director of environmental services at the company, gave a PowerPoint presentation to the commission about their research and the city’s options.
According to the presentation, Taylor Engineering has collected data, including conducting topographic and bathymetric surveys, tested the water and sediment and evaluated the natural resources of the bodies of water, including grass beds and the mangroves. Meetings were held with the stakeholders for input and with regulatory agencies to review permitting.
Taylor Engineering reported its conclusions on the initial five options the city could have had which included different types of dredging and cleanup or taking no action.
“It’s important to note that dredging of West Cedar Creek would likely provide limited if any improvement to stormwater conveyance through the upstream stormwater system,” Armbruster said. “This is primarily because the body of water is tidally influenced. So the water levels in that creek are controlled by tides, and the dredging bellows the mean tide level. So we don’t gain any additional volume or space for water when we dredge before the tidally influenced water elevation.”
The same was found to be true of East Cedar Creek, Armbruster said, because it, too, is influenced by the tides.
Additionally, Armbruster said that the Master Drainage Plans of 1981 and 2003 looked at this issue and determined that modifications to Cedar Creek would only provide a limited chance for stormwater improvement.
In regards to Lake Sperry, the report concluded that it receives its sediment mainly from stormwater runoff and lakeside bank erosion. However, now that the city has set up a gradient treatment system and various ways to trap sediment, the stormwater sediment buildup is reduced for the lake, the report said. To prevent bank erosion, the lakefront homeowners might have to take individual action, the report found.
“Dredging does not increase the stormwater storage volume of Lake Sperry and therefore does not provide any direct reduction in flood potential,” Armbruster said. “The dredging occurs below the mean lake level, and the mean lake level is controlled by two outflow pipes and the dredging would occur below that level. Dredging could reduce the potential for re-suspension of sediments in Lake Sperry, and suspended solid concentrations into Lake Sperry are reduced by the city-installed upgraded filtering system.”
The final option was to take no action. The report states that West Cedar Creek likely would continue to accumulate sediment in some areas, which “could result in increases of benthic flora and fauna,” and it “could lose its ability to accommodate watercraft operation, except canoes and kayaks, under most tidal conditions.” The same goes for East Cedar Creek, in addition to the expanding growth of mangroves. With permit approval, some mangrove trimming would be allowed if done by a professional mangrove trimmer, the report said.
“In the event that accumulated sediments and mangroves eventually impact up gradient drainage, there would develop need for limited dredging and vegetation management to reduce impacts of stormwater drainage from locations upstream of the mobile home park,” the report said.
As far as Lake Sperry goes, taking no action would also likely result in the continued sediment buildup, there would be limited opportunity for the lake to develop biodiversity, and watercraft operation could be impacted. However, “there will be no increase in flood potential unless the volume above the lake’s current water level is reduced,” the report said.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski was upset about the overall process and that she found some of the current findings to be inconsistent with the company’s finding back during the 1996 dredging.
Bujalski asked how much of the sediment that is in Lake Sperry came from upstream.
“There’s no way to answer that question because of the age of the lake,” Armbruster said. “We know now that the filtration system is removing sediment from the stormwater in the pipe system. The city removes that material. I believe that over the development of the city, the stormwater situation has been greatly different, so we can’t use the information from today to predict what it will be over the years. The volume of material that is in the lake certainly came from two main sources: the stormwater inflows through pipes and the over land inflows from surrounding properties.”
Numerous people from the public addressed the commission and the Taylor Engineering representatives.
“We’ve never asked for your assistance in maintaining the lake,” said Earl Smith of Terrace Road. “When there were fish kills, we took care of it. So all we’re asking is please, give us our lake back. The other thing that is concerning to me is the March report to this report, they are extremely different. Extremely. And it’s very bothersome and I’m very concerned about the politics of what’s going on here.”
Another resident, Ron Williams of the Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park, said he has owned his mobile home on the creek for 16 years and is disappointed with Taylor Engineering’s report.
“Taylor Engineering was hired by the city to study Cedar Creek and Lake Sperry. It was concluded that all sediment comes downstream and not from the Gulf and ends up in our back yards. This is not our garbage. It’s yours. So please get rid of it,” Williams said.
Not everyone supported dredging, however. Bill Francisco of St. Andrews Drive said he does not support dredging the lake because it just affects 28 homeowners on a private lake.
“The engineer says that if you dredge the lake it will not reduce flooding, and it will not improve water quality,” Francisco said. “The only thing that dredging will do is let canoes that are bigger go around Lake Sperry. … I don’t live there. I’m one citizen who is representing the 26,000 homeowners who are not here, and I don’t think I should have to pay for a problem that’s impacting only 28 households. And that’s the bottom line.”
After all the members of the public had their time to speak, city attorney Tom Trask shared a concern with the commission. He said that currently there is a lawsuit regarding not dredging Curlew Creek due to alleged stormwater issues, and he is concerned about a potential precedent that it might sent if the city does a voluntary dredging of these waterways but not Curlew Creek.
The commission itself was split on the dredging issue. Bujalski felt passionate about doing what she felt was the right thing, which was to dredge both the creek and the lake.
“Lake Sperry is used on a 24-hour basis by this city and its stormwater drainage,” Bujalski said. “Therefore, if we are using it, there is no agreement there, we just use it. Therefore, we have some culpability if they are losing their depth (of the water.) I think that is a fair statement to say and I actually think that is fact. If I went on any one of your property and just kept dumping stuff, it wouldn’t be okay. I think it’s a fact that the majority of the silt in Lake Sperry, whether it’s 50 percent or 90 percent as previously was told to us, it’s there because of our system.”
Bujalski said that to her, it is obvious that the stormwater system has caused these problems, and therefore the city needs to fix it.
“It’s called doing the right thing,” Bujalski said.
Bujalski made a motion that would have staff find out more information about how much it would cost and what would be involved in doing the maintenance dredging option in which the same type of dredging that occurred in 1996 would take place. No other commissioner seconded it, so Mayor Dave Eggers passed the gavel to Vice Mayor Julie Scales in order to second the motion, making Scales acting mayor.
Eggers said that he agrees with Bujalski on most of the things she said, including that this problem is due to stormwater issues. The city has worked hard to identify these problems and fix them in problems along the way in order to make a difference. In terms of the Curlew Creek situation, he believes that is different because that is a long creek with numerous reasons for its problems, as well as there being a number of municipalities that are responsible for it. Whereas Cedar Creek is solely in Dunedin and therefore its health is Dunedin’s responsibility.
“We’ve been utilizing this system,” Eggers said. “The aesthetic condition is horrible. The smells are horrible. The creek itself is just a mess. … And that just can’t be something that we can be proud of. So I just think there is a sense of responsibility here.”
The other three commissioners disagreed. Commissioner Ron Barnette said that he cares about all of the residents and their problems, whether something affects one home or many. However, given the scientific research on the issue, he said it seems clear that dredging will not effectively address those problems such as the floating trash and the smell. While he agrees that something should be done about the smell and the garbage, it has not been shown that dredging will fix that, so therefore he can not vote to approve moving forward on dredging.
Commissioner Heather Gracy agreed.
“We are inferior to mother nature,” Gracy said. “I’ve been listening to this. We had a dredge in 1996. And what’s to say that 18 years from now we’re not going to be doing the exact same thing. That’s what the engineers are saying. Science is telling me that we don’t have any kind of contamination there. … That being said, I don’t think this is practical public policy to spend this kind of money on a narrow project with a narrow scope. But that does not mean I’m not for swimmable, fishable recreation waters.”
For Scales, her major hang-up was the comment that the city attorney made.
“I can’t ignore the advice of the city attorney to hold off on this and that it could possibly expose us to financial liability in other areas of the city,” Scales said. “So I think it is just beyond imprudence to ignore that and proceed to exposing us to that kind of liability. For that reason alone I would say not to move forward with any kind of dredging.”
That motion therefore failed 2-3, with commissioners Scales, Barnette and Gracy voting against it. Scales then made a motion to take no action on dredging but to look into other options to clean the debris from the water and clean it up in other ways. That motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Bujalski and Eggers voting nay, saying they cannot support taking “no action” on dredging.