A dock used to sit over the Summer Haven River. Now it's nearly buried in sand.
A Least Tern nesting in Summer Haven River. Courtesy: Monique Borboen, Audubon Florida
A Wilson's Plover dad with his young ones in Summer Haven. Courtesy: Monique Borboen, Audubon Florida
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- The Summer Haven community in southern St. Johns County is one step closer to restoring the river, which has so much sand in it now.
A group aiming to rebuild the river has submitted a permit application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to dredge or remove the sand.
This week, Dee Parker stood on her dock on the Summer Haven River.
"This is extreme high tide and there might be two feet of water at the end," she observed.
She said there used to be at least six feet of water at her dock. People swam, drove boats, and watched the dolphins go by.
However, sand has washed into the river, clogging it.
Storms in 2008 pushed waves over the nearby sand dunes on the beach. For the last four years, sand has streamed into the river.
River docks now sit on beach sand. The fish are gone. Oyster harvesting signs have been replaced with signs which read "Dogs must be on leash."
"Oh, I'd love to see the river restored," Dee sighed.
She, her neighbors, and many others want to restore the river by dredging or removing the massive build up of sand. It would be placed back on the beach and another dune system would be created.
The Save the Summer Haven River group is waiting on a response from the DEP, and the group expects to hear from the state by the end of the week.
Audubon Florida has submitted paperwork to the DEP as well regarding the Summer Haven River project.
Audubon Florida is asking the state to consider the new birds on the sand.
"We have had nesting birds for at least three nesting seasons in Summer Haven," said Monique Borboen with Audubon Florida.
She said the threatened Least Tern and the Wilson's Plover now successfully nest on the sand which fills the Summer Haven River bed.
The dredging channel, Borboen explained, is proposed to be right on top of the shore birds' nesting site.
"By destroying their nesting habitat, in the long term, we are impacting their survival," the biologist noted.
Borboen doesn't want to stop the river restoration. However, she wants the river channel to be smaller, making room for the nesting area.
"We understand the concerns of the residents who would like to have water under their docks and we hope we can find a compromise," she added.
For Parker, the birds are a "non-issue." She said they only arrived after the dune breach.
"They had other places to live before that sand was there, and I feel by next year, they'll find a more appropriate place," Parker explained.
She and her neighbors predict the migratory birds will not like the vegetation now sprouting up on the sand.
With tears in her eyes, Parker said, she wanted the river back. She and her family moved there 20 years ago for the water.
There's no doubt the Summer Haven River is an emotional issue for the people who call Summer Haven home.
"Everybody loved the water," Parker wiped away tears.
First Coast News