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County selects firm to restore, reimagine Joe’s Creek

Mark Parker

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An artist's illustration of a reimagined Joe's Creek. Pinellas County officials have selected an engineering firm to oversee the project's first phases. Screengrab, county documents.

Long-awaited plans to breathe new life into Joe’s Creek and, by proxy, historically underserved areas surrounding the once prominent watershed, are moving forward.

Pinellas County officials comprising an evaluation committee selected Environmental Science Associates (ESA) July 2 to provide project engineering services. The San Francisco-based, employee-owned environmental consultancy firm’s proposal emerged from a competitive process that included Johnson, Mimriam & Thompson and Kimley-Horn.

The previously estimated $59.5 million Joe’s Creek Restoration project will primarily occur throughout Lealman. Over 20,000 residents live in the unincorporated community just outside St. Petersburg city limits; ESA will begin the first phase of what local officials have called the most important thing for this area that’s going to happen in the next five to 10 years.

“I was happy to see they have coastal experience as well as stream restoration,” said Emma Dontis, county environmental specialist, in her evaluation. “I think having those two skills for this sort of project is really quite important, and it seems like they’ve been able to tackle both.”

The 9,256-acre Joe’s Creek watershed also includes portions of Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. While the urban waterway resembles a large, flood-prone drainage ditch, local leaders have long planned to transform it into a public amenity.

Joe’s Creek today. Image: Pinellas County Government.

The current project’s boundaries are Park Boulevard to the north, 54th Avenue North to the south, 71st Street North to the east and Park Street to the west. ESA will oversee nuisance vegetation removal and design stormwater controls – including green infrastructure that better absorbs harmful nutrients and other pollutants affecting water quality.

Contractors will plant native vegetation and trees, stabilize banks, remove a mosquito ditch, restore a tidal salt marsh and dredge the channel to improve water flow. Downstream waterbodies like Cross Bayou will also receive enhancements.

The engineering phase intertwines with additional Joe’s Creek initiatives. Those include creating an extensive, elevated and permeable pavement multi-modal trail to foster community connectivity.

County documents call the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area “disadvantaged” due to the high percentage of low-income households with limited transportation access. Officials believe a reimagined Joe’s Creek will foster much-needed economic development.

The evaluation committee credited the ESA’s “vast” experience. “They even have a drone pilot on their staff,” said Daniel Umberger, a county hydrogeologist.

While headquartered in San Francisco, the firm operates a Tampa office and has completed several local projects. Company officials will dedicate 70 Florida employees, available at a moment’s notice, to restoring Joe’s Creek.

In December 2023, ESA acquired St. Petersburg-based Janicki Environmental, Inc. ESA’s leadership wrote that “Janicki’s expertise and specific county knowledge” will bolster “technical excellence and innovation” efforts. “ESA has spoken with county staff about this important project many times over the past three years, and we have a strong understanding of the project’s vision and scope of work,” states the proposal.

Thick nuisance vegetation currently surrounds areas of Joe’s Creek. Screengrab.

Doug Skurski, southeast regional director for ESA, and Ryan Hostman, the local project manager, noted in an opening letter that maintaining water quality and natural habitats is challenging in the state’s most densely populated county. They wrote that “significant tourism pressure and aging infrastructure” increases associated hurdles.

“Fortunately, ESA welcomes the opportunity to work with the county to overcome those challenges and improve water quality and habitat for the county’s residents – both human and wild,” they continued. “We look forward to continuing our strong and results-driven relationships with services provided by our local Tampa office and team of proven, local sub-consultants.”

Robert Burnes, project coordinator for the county, appreciated the firm’s detailed task outline. “I think they have a really good idea of what we’re looking for, and they understand how to get there,” he said.

Paul Miselis, stormwater and parks engineering manager, thought ESA missed infrastructure improvement details. However, he believes the company could still “deliver on the project pretty well.”

County Commissioners must now approve a three-year contract with ESA. The firm will complete invasive vegetation removal by mid-2026. The proposal states that stakeholders will collaboratively establish additional timelines, including dates for several public outreach activities.

ESA will first assess current conditions. Maximizing habitat and water quality benefits “across the widest range possible” is a project priority.

Company officials pledged to integrate science, engineering and innovation to achieve success. “Projects will be identified that provide independent benefits and value, instead of multiple dependent projects that must be implemented collectively to realize benefits and value,” states the proposal.

 

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Peter Lefferson

    July 8, 2024at3:21 pm

    Please give us a map of Joe’s creek.

  2. Avatar

    Jeanette R Bulatowicz

    July 8, 2024at9:09 am

    This sounds like a most needed project. Hoping for beautiful,shady areas where we can find some respite from the busy,hot hustle and bustle we have around us many times

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