The Alachua County Local Planning Agency and Planning Commission on Wednesday voted in favor of a proposed development for a 75-acre groundwater recharge wetland park in the western part of the county.
Participants at the meeting also included people who are a part of the Alachua County Growth Management Staff, CHW Professional Consultants, Gainesville Regional Utilities, Wetlands Solutions, Inc., as well as the public.
CHW Professional Consultants created the application for GRU to be presented to the Alachua County Department of Growth Management to request permission to develop this groundwater recharge wetland park.
GRU stated that, ‘“A groundwater recharge wetland is man-made wetland constructed on sandy soils that allow water to gradually percolate through the soil and recharge the aquifer beneath it. Reclaimed water is used to continuously hydrate the wetland and maintain a relatively constant water level of 12 to 18 inches deep in order to facilitate growth of emergent aquatic vegetation. Natural wetland processes reduce nutrients in the water to levels as it percolates into the ground,”’ according to the Alachua County Growth Management Staff Report on the project.
In GRU’s presentation at the meeting, it stated that the proposed schedule shows that if approved, the start-up for the wetland park will be in 2023 or 2024 depending on the construction process.
Gerry Dedenbach, the vice president of CHW Professional Consultants, said that the area in which this wetland park will be built is in close proximity to a few homes in Parker Place, located within Newberry city limits.
“The intent of the proposed groundwater recharge facility is to infiltrate approximately 5 million gallons of reclaimed water/day (MGD), resulting in high quality, low nutrient water that recharges the Floridan aquifer. The reclaimed water will come from a Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) water reclamation facility,” according to the staff report.
This groundwater recharge wetland park will be located along Southwest 122nd Street. and will be turned into a recreation park for residents in the area, according to the report.
Kristen Sealy, a utility engineer for GRU, said that the area of the wetland park will be “lined with earthen berms that have recreational paths on top that can be used for various purposes like taking a walk or going for a jog or wildlife viewing.”
As part of GRU’s presentation at the meeting, Sealy discussed the many environmental and community benefits that will be acquired from the development of this groundwater recharge wetland park.
Some of the environmental benefits included the ability to decrease the environmental footprint of the community, allowing for lower energy use even with additional treatment and the establishment of a wetland habitat, leading to more biodiversity, according to Sealy.
The community benefits mentioned from the wetland park included the ability to have more recreational opportunities for residents in the area, as well as ecotourism attraction and providing a way for people to learn more about the environment.
Since the population in the area is expected to increase by 20% to 25% in the next 20 years, the development of this groundwater recharge wetland park will help to protect the water supply, according to Sealy.
Even though there seems to be a lot of benefits to creating this wetland park and some members of the public did agree with the project, there were others that had a different view, such as Greta and Thomas Lewis, local residents who oppose the project.
Greta Lewis wrote in a submitted public comment, “I have lived off SW 122nd St. (Parker Road) for over 40 years, and I have seen a lot of growth and development but feel this would completely ruin the dynamics of our beautiful urban residential neighborhoods and our newly constructed elementary school. My neighborhood, Parker Place, would be greatly affected by this.”
Chris Keller, the president and senior engineer at Wetlands Solutions, Inc., tried to ease those concerns at the meeting.
“This is a very well understood technology,” he said. “This might be very new to members of the commission that are reviewing this zoning application. It may be new to many of the residents of western Gainesville, but it’s not new in the world of science and engineering.”