ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Ellis Zahra and Linda Ginn walked out on to his dock on the Summer Haven River Thursday. His dock is one of the many that now sits on the sand.
That’s because in 2008, a tropical storm broke through a nearby beach dune, sending salt water and sand into the Summer Haven River. Since then, the sand filled the river, leaving docks high and dry and driving out the wildlife.
Zahra said 13 endangered species used to call the river home.
"People started mobilizing in 2009," he said. Ginn nodded, "It was a labor of love."
Now, eight years later, major work is underway to dredge the river to get the sand out of it. Pipe now stretches across the barren river, sand is being pumped through the pipes to the dune area.
"And they take the earth moving equipment and form the new dune system with that," Ginn explained.
Once all the sand is removed, the Jerry Dixon with the St. Augustine Port, Waterway and Beach District said the river will fill up with water from the Intracoastal Waterway.
The river "will go back and start its natural flow again, like it did historically," Dixon said.
We'll have a permit in place that should another breach occur, we're allowed to bring sand out and immediately heal that breach,” Ginn said.
She and Zahra said the dune system will also be stronger than before because of added vegetation and the expectation of more sand from future dredging projects near Fort Matanzas.
Zahra said the project is about 80 percent complete. Dixon estimates the river could be flowing in 30 to 45 days.
The state is spending $3 million on the project.
"This river has economic benefits, environmental, historic, and recreational benefits," Ginn noted.
After years of working on the project together, Ginn and Zahra - who have become friends in the process - are glad to see the work being done.
"Hallelujah,” Zahra said.