A rushing of water out of Foley into the Bon Secour River headwaters during big rains can sometimes cause a variety of problems downstream, but a federal grant could help stop that.
“Right now, when it rains those flows are coming really fast out of Foley due to all the asphalt and concrete everywhere,” city Environmental Manager Leslie Gahagan said.
The city hopes to combat that problem and other issues with the water headed to the river with a Bon Secour Headwaters Restoration Project funded with federal dollars.
“It is a $1.5 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Environmental Benefits Fund,” Gahagan said. “There is no match to the grant. We’ll be managing the restoration project in the headwaters of the Bon Secour River, where we will basically sidecast stormwater flows into a natural treatment system where it can remove pollutants and slow the water down before it’s rereleased into the river.”
A byproduct of the program will also cut down on damage downriver caused by massive runoffs following large rain events. On April 1, the Foley City Council was expected to consider a $500,000 contract with Volkert Engineering for preliminary work on the project.
“We think it should alleviate some of those big flows that come through that erode the banks,” Gahagan said. “This will kind of slow that water down, hold it back for a while and it will slowly release over time.”
This is just the first phase of the project, which will be for acquiring the land to build areas to contain, treat and eventually release the water, but at a calmer pace.
“Basically, the property we’re trying to acquire will have a large lake put on it,” Gahagan said. “It will be treated for any sediment fallout first, then have a second lake where the water can be held at a depth where it’s not a mosquito-breeding device. Then it will go beyond that into a wetland area and then be released into the river itself.”
The grant will fund the purchase of about 94 acres south of West Michigan Avenue and west of County Road 26. It will also fund the preliminary planning and other initial parts of the project.
“This phase is just the property acquisition, the design and engineering and the permitting,” Gahagan said. “Beyond that, the next phase would be a request, and this is how that federal agency works, a phased approach. That’s how they handle the grants.”
Dirt will start turning as soon as the first phase, including the negotiation on buying the land, is completed and a second grant is acquired.
“The second phase would be actually the construction phase, where we would excavate a large portion of what is now currently agricultural land and turn it into a larger body of water with certain devices to treat the water,” Gahagan said. “The grant has been approved and we’ve got it through council. We are in the process of doing our due diligence on the property before we actually acquire it.”
Gahagan said the long-term effects of this project will contribute to the health of the river for many years to come.
“It should reduce any flooding downstream, assimilate that water to slow it down from eroding the banks, and it’s just going to have good effects on water quality,” she said.
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