Bayou Chico clean-up controversy

Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill recently sent out this email to his constituents about the brewing debate over the clean-up of Bayou Chico:

I understand you have been hearing the tall tales about Jackson Lakes. There are members of our community pressing a false narrative: the idea that the remaining spoils in the Bayou can be dumped into Jackson Lakes the way it was done before. Specifically,

1. Claims that DEP and NWFWWD have said that it is likely that we can get a permit ARE NOT TRUE. When I ask about this claim, they only say what they always say: “Submit what you want and we will review it”. There is not one single official at either of these organizations who will go on the record supporting such a plan. Those who attended the the BCA meeting I was at heard Keith Wilkins say he felt it was a “long shot at best”

2. Claims that UWF is on board with this plan ARE NOT TRUE. Dr. Mohrherr and Dr. Liebens of UWF are on the record in adamant opposition with the definitive work on Bayou Chico

3. Claims that the County is bound by an MOU stating that the lakes must be used for the purpose of receiving dredge spoils ARE NOT TRUE. While it was certainly ONE of the possible uses and was a key part of the discussion back when we bought the property, the MOU to purchase the property has no such stipulation.

4. Claims that the consensus in the community is 100% supporting this use of the lakes ARE NOT TRUE. If you do your research, much of the community was horrified at this behavior when it was done.

The truth is, some are asking you to sign on to a petition to go “all in” on what is absolutely a long shot at best.

I have tried to work with the Bayou Chico Assn, and have made it clear that CLEANING UP BAYOU CHICO IS MY NUMBER 1 ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITY. I have expended enormous energies to research alternatives that will keep us on track when this foolhearty plan fails to get a permit…and it will fail.

Are you the kind of people who bet all your luck on a single plan, with no backup? As sailors and watermen I suspect you are not that foolish. Are you the kind of people who are willing to pollute another body of water…AND the HEADWATERS of YOUR BAYOU to get the dredging done?

I hope not, because I hold you in much higher regard than that. The environmental realities of our world today are so very different than they were a decade ago. Some insist on playing from the old e-SCAM-bia political playbook of division, half-truths and negativity. I had hoped that we would be working together to clean up Bayou Chico…it is clear that some have chosen a different route.

For every signature placed on that petition I will get 10 signatures on a petition to clean up OmniVest and make Jackson Lakes available to the citizens of the West Side. This divisiveness is bad for everyone, and we will achieve less by fighting each other than we could working together. I had hoped that this effort to clean up the Bayou, bring a fitting tourism attraction to the West side (and with it a share of the TDT monies) and help Warrington shake its reputation as a trashy neighborhood.

Clearly, some have set themselves on a collision course with my efforts to clean up the Bayou, and that is unfortunate. But don’t worry, I will continue to strive to create successes for Bayou Chico during my tenure in spite of the stumbling blocks created with this old, divisive way of doing business.

Commissioner Doug Underhill


What is the petition?

A MoveOn member John Naybor created a petition entitled “Save Bayou Chico.”

The petition is addressed to Commissioner Underhill and reads:

Petition To stop the development of Jackson’s Lakes Diversion & Wakeboard Park, which jeopardizes a Bayou Chico water quality restoration effort that will, after 40 years, remove Bayou Chico from the 303D Impaired Body of Waters list.

We, the citizens of Escambia County, demand that the Commissioners of Escambia County and the RESTORE Committee Members do not support the development of the Clark Sand Pit property for any use other than what was agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the North West Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) and Escambia County. And that the Clark Sand Pit not be developed for a Wakeboard Park or other recreational use for the following reasons:

a. The north lake is the only lake in the Clark Sand Pit that may be used for Bayou Chico Sediment.
b. If the Clark Sand Pit is developed for recreational use, Bayou Chico sediment will not be permitted in the Pit and the restoration of Bayou Chico will become too costly to fund.
c. Escambia County agreed to use the Clark Sand Pit for Bayou Chico dredge sediment and storm water retention as its primary use. See MOU with NWFWMD.
d. Recreational use of the Clark Sand Pit jeopardizes the restoration of Bayou Chico and is not in the best interest of the home owners and businesses within the Bayou Chico water shed district comprising of over 24,000 privately owned business and residential land partials.


Stay tuned.