Sinking Creek Wetlands Center on agenda for city meeting

Gary B. Gray • Apr 3, 2013 at 8:48 PM

City commissioners Thursday night will consider a cost-sharing agreement with Boone Watershed Partnership to pursue the first phase of the Sinking Creek Wetlands Center, a 28-acre environmental education park off King Springs Road.

The initial phase involves constructing a parking lot, boardwalk and construction of about 600 feet of wetlands on about 2.5 acres of the property.

Bill Francisco has been on a years-long mission to see this happen. Jacob Francisco, one of Bill’s two sons, was 6 years old when he was contaminated with an E. coli bacteria from an unknown source. His condition worsened, and he eventually died on June 29, 2004.

Though no absolute evidence exists that E. coli from the creek was responsible for Jacob’s death, the family lives nearby and the children had played there on a regular basis.

Francisco hooked up with Gary Tysinger, of Johnson City’s Tysinger Hampton & Partners, who created the proposed design for the park at the Sinking Creek wetlands, which, in turn, will act in tandem as an expansion of the Sinking Creek Restoration Project.

The Boone Watershed Partnership and the city of Johnson City have been working together with the project, which is funded by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to rid old septic systems from the stream’s banks and tributaries and connecting to city sewer. Cattle pasture runoff has been identified as a probable source of E. coli in the 10-mile-long stream, and efforts continue to get more agricultural collaboration in the restoration project.

In order to meet the requirements of a $103,805 grant from the Department of Agriculture for the first phase, the city must set aside the 28-acre tract for the full build-out of the par; provide up to about $41,500 of in-kind expenses, such as labor or machinery; agree to pay the TDA a prorated portion of the grant if the property is sold within 20 years; and complete the project by Sept. 23.

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said the TDA awarded the Boone Watershed Partnership a $300,000 grant, of which the city matched 40 percent, to address pollution in the creek.

“The project involved 24 sewer hook-ups, five septic tank, or ‘drainfield’ repairs and an agricultural project involving fencing livestock from the creek,” he said. “That project wrapped up last year and the remaining funds will be used for this first phase.”

Pindzola said a second grant in the amount of $285,000 has been submitted to provide additional funds for extending the boardwalk. Others participating in the 40 percent match include HydroCycle Engineering, East Tennessee State University, Boone Watershed Partnership, TVA, Morning Rotary Club and various volunteer groups.

“This money will be used to eventually extend the boardwalk throughout the entire 28 acres and to use for the educational component,” he said.

Commissioners also will pick up discussion and possibly take action regarding the Rails-to-Trails project between Johnson City and Elizabethton. On March 21, commissioners agreed a task force should be developed to help guide the estimated $5.2 million, 10-mile trail.

Mayor Jeff Banyas emphasized the need at that time to bring in private investors to help pay for construction and that “It’s obvious from the master plan that the full $5.2 million build-out is probably something we won’t do.”

About three weeks ago, Durham, N.C.-based Alta/Greenways delivered to Johnson City and Elizabethton officials a master plan for East Tennessee’s first rails-to-trails project.

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