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$17 million grant helps shore up Joe’s Creek Restoration Project

Mark Parker

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The Joe's Creek Watershed is a 9,256-acre area encompassing portions of Lealman, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. Photos provided.

With the aid of a $17 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Pinellas County will soon breathe new life into the sprawling Joe’s Creek Watershed.

The Joe’s Creek Watershed encompasses a 9,256-acre area that includes portions of unincorporated Lealman, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. Kelli Hammer Levy, director of public works, said that while the waterway can provide an amenity for the communities that line its corridor, it is currently an eyesore and flood risk.

The county is now in the planning and procurement phase of a major project to transform and enhance Joe’s Creek. The $51 million undertaking will restore the creek and its surrounding green space, improve stormwater capacity, enhance water quality and create a multi-use trail. County officials announced the $17 million grant Feb. 9, and Levy called the extra funding for the project “huge.”

“It will primarily be used for construction,” she said. “Given that it’s a big chunk of dollars … we’ll be able to move forward a lot faster.”

Levy said Pinellas officials brought state leadership into the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area – a focal point of the project – to help illustrate what the county hopes to accomplish. She said there are several flood-prone areas in the community, and the county’s ability to significantly reduce flood risks was a major selling point for the state.

The $17 million grant is part of $64 million the state awarded through the Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program. Pinellas is one of eight locations in Florida to receive a share of the funding, which uses federal dollars to support protection against future storm damage.

Levy noted the creek is a centerpiece of Lealman, despite its current appearance.

“When you walk out there today, it doesn’t look like anything special,” she said. “As a matter of fact, it looks like a drainage ditch.”

Current conditions along the Joe’s Creek corridor show the waterway more closely resembles a large drainage ditch.

Levy explained that it was once common to straighten waterways, remove trees and turn a natural stream into a flood conveyance system. She said this project allows for flood protection while bringing mother nature back into the picture.

The county plans to stabilize the slope along the creek’s embankments, decreasing sediment deposits and creating a more natural look. Erosion is a significant problem in some areas and reduces water quality.

“It doesn’t protect people when the bank is going to fall down,” Levy added. “It’s a safety issue.”

The project will also create an elevated, pervious pavement trail that allows for additional storage capacity in the channel and provides a scenic pathway for pedestrians and bicyclists. The trail’s elevation directs stormwater runoff into adjacent green infrastructure, and the permeable pavement reduces runoff from reaching the creek.

Planting new trees and landscaping along the lengthy Joe’s Creek corridor will complete the transformation.

“So, it becomes more of an amenity than what it looks like today,” said Levy. “It will look more aesthetically pleasing than its current condition.”

Most of all, Levy believes the project will change the feel of the community. She said instead of residents instructing visitors to “turn right at the big ditch,” they can soon say “turn right at the creek and nature trail.”

In addition to instilling a sense of pride in the surrounding neighborhoods, Levy said the project would also foster economic development and investment in the community. She noted the greenway project ties directly into the new Raymond Neri Park and will connect to other county trails. She added that what was once a liability will soon become a community asset.

A rendering of the Joe’s Creek Restoration Project shows slope stabilization, an elevated multi-use trail and new landscaping.

“The more we invest in projects like this in Lealman, the more people will want to be there, and the more businesses will want to be there,” said Levy. “American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars are bringing a lot of money to Lealman as well.”

ARPA funds will support additional flood prevention work in the area, including a regional stormwater facility, culvert restoration and upgrades to erosion control and stormwater management. The county also plans to improve natural ecosystems in Lealman and Kenneth City that feature green infrastructure and complete streets.

Levy said the county issued a request for proposals for the Joe’s Creek Restoration Project before receiving the DEO grant, and officials are now ensuring the procurement process meets federal requirements for ARPA funding. While the county is still trying to secure additional funding for the projects, Levy said she expects work to begin soon.

“We’re getting ready to ramp up and move this forward,” she said. “With the grant, they do really want to see this project implemented in a timely manner.”

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    jaclyn Swenningsen Elshoff

    February 16, 2022at6:46 pm

    My entire family having lived here on 49th Ave. N. across from Joe’s Creek for over 70 years…has never ever
    had a floor….We are 42 ft. above sea level….no flood insurance ever needed, plus the run off – the creek.

    First dredged in 1951….we all swam in the creek….with our black innertubes! Many on 49th Ave. no. have longed for a sidewalk for all the foot traffic. Adding nice trees and landscape will be an added benefit. Finally,
    Work well done. I will live long enough, right?? ha.
    Thank you, Jaclyn Swenningsen Elshoff. jswen@tampabay.rr.com

  2. Avatar

    A. Hall

    May 16, 2022at2:35 pm

    I’ve lived in the Lealman area for five years (Pinellas County for 20+ years). I am really excited to see how this will transform the area. We’re noticing a lot more people walking on our street and adding a sidewalk here will be a much appreciated addition.

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