Millers Creek by Greg Walsh

Over the past six decades, residents living along Millers Creek have seen hopeful signs the St. John’s River tributary would be dredged, only to be disappointed when the plans got dropped for one reason or another.

A new effort by residents living along the St. Nicholas neighborhood creek seems to have more traction than past efforts, although not everyone living along the creek wants their property taxes to increase.

At a town hall meeting in January, several residents heard about progress on legislation introduced by District 4 Councilman Don Redman to create a special taxing district to fund an engineering study and subsequent dredging. If adopted by the City Council, the legislation [2014-700] will create a five-member board to oversee property taxes levied on properties located on Mayfair Road, Gay Avenue or Morier Street.

Owners of 21 of the 29 properties required to pay the non-ad valorem tax have expressed support for the dredging, said Scott Wilson, Redman’s executive council assistant. Still, Redman deferred introducing the legislation for two weeks after some residents came to the Jan. 15 meeting with questions.

“It sounded to me like the people at the meeting weren’t opposed, they just needed more information,” Wilson said.

Questions included why some properties had to pay and others didn’t, how the taxing district board members were chosen, why a jetty and navigational aids must be maintained and how long the special taxing district will remain in effect.

Wilson said Wayne Flowers, an attorney working with residents to create the special taxing district, planned to address those questions and any others at a follow-up meeting on Jan. 28. If there are no lingering issues, Wilson said a final City Council vote on the legislation could come at the Feb. 10 meeting.

Neighborhood resident Jonathan Wright, a dredging supporter, says the time is long passed for it to be done.

“The headline, if you need it, is ‘Broke Down Creek,’” said Wright. “If nothing is done it will continue to back up and will continue to be stagnant.”

Millers Creek, which sits across from EverBank Field, is only about 1,000 feet long as it meanders toward Atlantic Boulevard. Records show the creek was last dredged around 1947 and that discussions occurred in the 1960s about cleaning out accumulating silt and vegetation blocking the waterway.

But the discussions never proved productive, even in 2009 when the City of Jacksonville had the creek listed as No. 2 on tributaries needing immediate dredging. The result is the creek has only about 2 feet of water and is essentially unusable to boaters except for a few hours per day during high tide.

A resident of the area since 2002, Wright says he’s hopeful the taxing district can work quickly to get an engineering study that would provide cost estimates and firm timeline for the work. Such a study would cost about $20,000, he said.

However, a preliminary review of the dredging by Taylor Engineering of Jacksonville indicates it would cost between $800,000 and $1.5 million to take the creek’s primary channel to 5 feet deep, Wright said.
Ideally, the city could issue bonds for the dredging and use the annual tax collections to repay it over a 20- to 30-year period, Wright said.

Current cost estimates could be nearly half that amount if the dredging did not require a barge. It’s not clear, however, if the owner of property where trucks could load is willing to allow access, he noted.
In the meantime, more than 200 storm drains in the St. Nicholas area continue to dump sand and silt into the creek, Wright stated.

“You have people who have lived along the creek for 50 years and haven’t put one dime into it,” Wright said. “What we (supporters) all realized is that once people move here they don’t want to leave. This is a great neighborhood and a great place to live. We might as well have the creek the way it should be and accessible.”

Some residents previously expressed concern they couldn’t afford a higher property tax bill. But Wilson noted all homeowners living along the creek will likely see improved property values once the creek is dredged, allowing improved river access.

Wilson noted the special taxing district will fall in Councilwoman Lori Boyer’s district when redrawn City Council district lines take effect July 1.

By Greg Walsh
Resident Community News

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