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Program would restore marsh

The ragged strip of land next to Mangrove Bay Golf Course is scarred by mosquito ditches and cut off from Riviera Bay. Brazilian pepper trees crowd out the native trees preferred by wildlife. Although it's not exactly an environmental disaster area, it could be better. A lot better.

City and state officials are hoping to revive the 12.4-acre tract with a $190,000 marsh restoration project. The area is northwest of the city's golf course, off 78th Avenue NE.

The project is scheduled to begin in January, once the city gets the necessary state and federal permits, said Julie Weston, the city's urban forester.

Most of what the city will do is remold the contour of the land to allow tidal water to wash into shallow basins. Workers also will plant 1.1 acres of spartina, a native marsh grass.

And then it's a wait for the birds to come _ blue herons, roseate spoonbills, egrets and wood storks.

Workers will rip out the undesirable plants, such as the Brazilian pepper trees. They'll be careful to save the oaks and other beneficial trees, shrubs and plants, Weston said.

"We want to go in and restore the area to what it previously was," said Ron Jaudon, director of planning for Proctor & Redfern, a Tampa environmental consulting firm that designed the project.

The city got a grant to do the project through the Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) program, Weston said, a program overseen by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly called Swiftmud. SWIM is a multimillion-dollar program that aims to clean up Tampa Bay through a wide range of projects.

The city also will contribute to the project, providing the labor and equipment to do the earth-moving work, Weston said.

The city will pay for its part of the project with money from its environmental enhancement fund. Weston said she didn't know exactly how much the city's contribution would cost, but estimated it at $50,000.

The only holdup on the project is the paper work. The city has permits from the state Department of Environmental Regulation and Swiftmud. But Weston still is waiting to hear from the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Weston said there is no fast-track permitting process for restoration. The city goes through the same process as a developer would, she said.

"You'd think we were building condos out there," she said. "It's a nightmare. It really gives you a lot of empathy for developers."

Once the project gets started, Weston estimated it would take about six weeks to complete.

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