4-year project restores portion of Joe's Creek
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 27, 2003
ST. PETERSBURG - As officials gathered Friday morning to celebrate completion of a Joe's Creek restoration project, nature said hello.
A 20-mph wind blew documents off tables and rattled maps as speakers lauded 15 acres of newly cultivated marsh and high-ground habitat near the historic creek's Cross Bayou terminus.
And when the ceremony ended, a brown-and-white flash dipped through trees 100 yards away. It was a rare bald eagle patrolling around its nest.
Eagles have nested for decades in the vicinity and provided a reason for creation of the Joe's Creek preservation area years ago. The county purchased land that had been zoned for condominium development.
Friday's event marked the formal end of a more recent Joe's Creek project, this one paid for by part of Tampa Bay's share of settlement money generated by an oil spill 10 years ago.
"It's important to grasp pieces of real estate available for restoration," said Carl Giovenco, an environmental specialist with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud.
The project, which took about four years, included removing Australian pines, Brazilian peppers and punk trees. Native plants such as live oaks, slash pines and cabbage palms were preserved.
Crews took away trash from old construction projects. Land was reshaped to create hammock and bring back tidal flow to marsh areas. Spartina, a wetland grass, was planted.
The area will provide a nursery for crabs, shrimp and fish, including snook, in addition to providing habitat for gopher tortoises, otters and birds.
"This is the finishing touch of years of restorative efforts," said County Commission chair Karen Seel.
Wielding 10-pound dibble bars - a specialized spade used to make narrow holes - two dozen juniors and seniors from Admiral Farragut Academy demonstrated how to plant spartina.
They weren't working languidly, either. The Farragut prom was coming up in a few hours at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, said Chuck Summers, Farragut's science department chair.
John Iliff, habitat restoration manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's southeast region, said the project would have "huge economic effects downstream" because of the area's revived status as a nursery for aquatic life.
Swiftmud contributed $134,000 and Pinellas county government $89,000 to help fund the project. NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection also helped in the restoration process.
About $132,000 came from the oil spill settlement, reached in 1999 six years after three ships collided near Tampa Bay's mouth.
The accident released into the bay an estimated 330,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil and several thousand gallons of jet fuel, diesel and gasoline.
The spill injured wildlife, including birds and sea turtles, and damaged mangroves, marches, shellfish beds and sea grass.
About $8-million in public claims resulted from the spill.
Fourteen projects to improve or restore Pinellas natural resources have been completed or are under way, officials said. Fishing piers, dune walkovers, a boat ramp and a passive beach park are among them.
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