Borrow Pit wetland restoration project to start in fall

By KEVIN BRADY

The Borrow Pit Project, part two of the $4.5-million wetlands restoration project due to begin next month in Gibsonton, is slated to begin in October this year.

The five-acre property is east of U.S. Highway 41, beside the CSX railroad tracks and the Delaney Canal.

Dirt from the property was “borrowed” early in the last century.

“They used it either for the railroad tracks or for the highway, we are not sure which one,” said Roy Lewis III, president of Lewis Environmental Services. The Riverview company, has been working with Mosaic on the Borrow Pit and Giant’s Camp restoration projects for eight years, ever since federal officials mandated the phosphate company work on some form of environmental compensation after polluted water spilled from its plant in 2004.

“In both projects we are restoring hydrology (the circulation of water) to the area and creating fish and mangrove habitats,” said Laura Flynn, an engineer with Lewis Environmental.

The project will leave the property with a tidal creek and pond.

Restoring a natural flow of water to the area will allow nature to work, said Lewis.

“We are not in the business of planting mangroves,” Lewis said. “We are letting Mother Nature do her own restoration work here.”

Having seen the process work successfully in other projects around the world, Lewis is confident it will work at the Borrow Pit.

“It’s a proven methodology,” he said.

The property, which has been altered by ditching, excavation and dumping over the years, is currently dominated by Brazilian Peppers. One of most aggressive and wide-spread of the invasive non-indigenous exotic pest plants in Florida, the Brazilian Pepper tree produces a dense canopy that shades out all other plants and provides a very poor habitat for native species.

“This species invades aquatic as well as terrestrial habitats, greatly reducing the quality of native biotic communities in the state,” according to the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

Step one at the Borrow Pit will be removing the Brazilian Peppers, something Mosaic has been doing in the area for several years. Once those are removed, and a tidal flow restored, the mangroves will have a chance to flourish.

In addition, the project will also include:
• Excavating a tidal creek connecting to the Delaney Creek Pop-Off Canal which borders the property to the north
• Creating a 1-acre shallow tidal pond
• Grading the wetland area to support natural mangrove colonization

Work on the borrow pit project is expected to conclude by June, 2014.

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