Construction site spills silt into Ortega River on rainy days

Residents report silt plume flowing into Ortega River from Roosevelt Marketplace construction after heavy rainfall

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville area saw some significant rainfall from the end of June into the beginning of July with 11 consecutive days of measurable rain.

These heavy rains are what push silt from the Roosevelt Marketplace construction site into a nearby canal that flows into the Ortega River.

The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues to monitor the situation and fears that the silt plumes flowing into the river will continue to happen unless adequate silt barriers are used through the rainy summer season.

“You really have to ensure that not only do you have adequate barriers, preventing that sediment any dirt from being able to reach those storm drains, but also that you’ve calculated for how much rain, we expect to see in the forecast, and that those barriers are going to be able to hold up to those thunderstorms,” said Shannon Blankenship, advocacy director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

These major turbidity plumes flowing into the river can have long-term effects on our waterways. When the sediment from the construction site reaches the river, it can change the river’s elevation and cause mud flaps along the riverbed.

The sediment can also move throughout the column, which would prevent sunlight from reaching the river floor. This impacts the plants and aquatic vegetation, which then impacts nurseries for crabs, oysters and fish in our waterways.

“The other thing that sedimentation is going to do, is that long term with all of the changes to the waterway base that you see, there is no restoration plan for repairing or tributaries that have already become impacted by sediment and have been neglected over the years,” Blankenship said.

The recent plume sighting wasn’t the first.

“The first time that we saw an active violation of construction at the Roosevelt mall was in January of 2020,” Blankenship said. “We’ve continued to receive reports through April, May and June.”

According to Blankenship, the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are both looking into the situation. She said they’ve been active in “trying to figure out what compliance needs to happen in order to ensure that these violations don’t continue.”