State permit delays Pendleton King Park wetland creation until fall

 

 

Pendleton King Park has a new waterfall at Lake Elizabeth, but it has yet to start pumping harmful algae from the popular fishing spot because of a lengthy permitting process that’s holding up an ecosystem restoration project at the south Augusta pond.

The Pendleton King Park Foundation has received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to establish federal wetlands around Lake Elizabeth to soak up – and filter out – excessive deposits of nitrogen and phosphorous that have recently surfaced at the pond and threatened a fish kill.

But before the waterfall can start flowing, the foundation must complete the $50,000 project it started planning last summer to improve the concentration of oxygen-rich water in the lake, said Board President Jim Blount.

Hindering the process is an outstanding construction permit the foundation is seeking from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to put up buffers, and prevent land and water resources from being “wrested” from the area through the normal flow of state stream waters, according to legal documents.

“The project is taking a little bit longer than we hoped, but we’re not letting the permitting process hold us up,” Blount said. “We’re still moving forward.”

While the foundation awaits approval, Blount said it will hold a volunteer service project Saturday to clear some of the invasive plant species, such as Japanese Honeysuckle, Privet, Bradford Pear and Tallow, which have prevented healthy tree canopies from forming around the lake.

Foundation members have already treated invasive undergrowth for cutting, which Chalisa Nestell, a research scientist working on the project for Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy at Phinizy Swamp, said will take “repeated volunteer removals” throughout the summer.

Nestell said ground-breaking on the federal wetland, funded through a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, could be in the fall. The goal is to build a marshland that filters out contaminating elements and returns aerated streams of purified water to the lake through a 5-foot waterfall constructed over the past 10 months.

“Because we don’t have the permit yet to work on the wetland, we cannot do any soil activities,” she said. “But anything above the surface, we can cut and remove.”

Though algae are important to freshwater ecosystems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that potentially harmful blooms can occur in natural waters. Also, certain types of microscopic algae grow quickly in water, often in response to changes in levels of chemicals.

The blooms deplete the oxygen and block the sunlight that other organisms need to live, and some produce toxins harmful to the environment, plants, animals and people.

Shawn Rosenquist, the research scientist overseeing the project for the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, has reported no harm to park visitors, but said a fish kill is possible, especially with hotter weather on the way.

Through the recommendation of the academy, Blount said the Pendleton King Foundation has amended the scope of its project to include a second pump in the pond to circulate water during a period of low flow. He said the plan is to have it running within the next month.

Nestell said permitting is usually the lengthier part of most environmental restoration projects because of multiple jurisdictions involved and the extensive list of guidelines each requires under the U.S. Clean Water Act.

“Our situation is a little bit different because we are actually improving a wetland versus degrading habitats for construction,” she said.

Nestell said the academy has monitored groundwater levels to make sure they are not tapping into a spring and that wetland soil will hold and purify the water being pumped into the ecosystem from the waterfall.

Blount said the project’s nonstop progress has impressed him.

“I am thrilled to death with it,” he said. “We are getting closer to having a very nice waterfall feature that will improve the overall appearance and water quality of the pond and park.”

 

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