Gainesville greenlights new 75-acre wetlands

The Gainesville City Commission approved moving forward with two water related projects at Thursday’s commission meeting.

The first, on the consent agenda, looks to stabilize Little Hatchet Creek. According to the city, the is susceptible to stream channel erosion endangering Airport Helicopter Hanger.

The commission’s consent will let city staff begin a contract with TSI Disaster Recovery LLC to build a wall system to shore up the area. The cost of the project is estimated to be $1.18 million.

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Also, the erosion has exposed phosphate that flows into Newnans Lake. The project would prevent those pollutants from entering the lake.

The second project has a much broader scope. The Groundwater Recharge Wetland Project looks to create a new 75-acre wetland off of SW 122nd Street on the west side of Gainesville.

Tony Cunningham, interim general manager of GRU, said the project provides multiple “wins” for the city. He said it will be cost effective because of the partnerships and that it would allow GRU to expand its water reclamation capacity, expand its water supply, help preserve the environment and allow partnerships with Alachua County, the state and other groups.

GRU interim General Manager Tony Cunningham

The main purpose of the project will be to supply Florida’s groundwater with high-quality, low-nutrient water.

GRU utility engineer Kristen Sealey said the 75 acres contain sandy soil, unlike natural wetlands found on clay.

Once the basin is built and natural plants established, GRU will keep the area hydrated with water from its Kanapaha Water Reclamation Facility off of Tower Road. That water can then seep through the sandy soil to the aquifer.

“With this groundwater recharge, it will help boost aquifer levels, which will have a regional benefit of supporting the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee River flows,” Sealey said.

Sealy said the new project will resupply the aquifer with 3 million gallons a day, and future buildout could add another 2 million gallons a day.

GRU estimates the design, permitting and construction to cost no more than $10 million, although partners will split some of the costs. The city has already accounted for the funds in its annual budget.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District shouldered half the cost to buy the land in 2021—a $2 million total cost.

The two organizations will also cover half of the permitting and design costs. Sealey said GRU expects the groups to also split the construction costs.

Regardless, GRU has applied and received some Florida funds for the project and will apply for more, according to Cunningham.

The commission gave a green light for GRU to move forward with a contract between the city and the construction company who won a bidding process: Wharton-Smith Inc.

“I have a very vivid memory of Mr. Cunningham first presenting this idea a while back, and my initial response was ‘Oh, good. Another Sweetwater,’” Commissioner Reina Saco said.

She added that the project had her support from then on, but the cost effective way GRU has worked to move forward is an added benefit, helping relieve pressure from the city.

Sealey said the city hopes to have design and permitting done in 2022 and part of 2023, with construction lasting from 2023 to 2025.

Alachua County is also a partner in the project. The county will manage public access—including passive recreation, wildlife viewing, photo opportunities and environmental education—like those in place at Sweetwater Wetlands.

Artistic rendering of new wetlands park

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