You never know where new projects might come from at the Charleston District. Usually, they come from referrals or from customers that the District has worked with in the past. Those projects are typically larger in scale, but there is no limit to the size project the District is capable of completing. That’s why when Dudley Patrick, project manager, stumbled upon an article in a local newspaper about the problems in Polk Swamp, near St. George, Dorchester County, S.C., he immediately began thinking.
"I read the article in the paper and thought the problems at Polk Swamp sounded a lot like what we did at Pocotaligo Swamp in 2008," said Patrick. "It seemed like there was a sufficient possibility for a federal project so we discussed the idea with leadership in Dorchester County."
Patrick and a member of the Charleston District’s planning and environmental branch met with Dorchester County leaders and conducted a visit at Polk Swamp in December 2010 to see what opportunities there might be for a potential project. The meeting and visit went well and showed a lot of promise for something to be done. Due to the small size and nature of the project, it could be performed under the Continuing Authorities Program.
The Continuing Authorities Program allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete smaller projects, often to help smaller municipalities, without needing to get specific congressional authorization for each project. The CAP project for Polk Swamp falls under Section 206 (Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration category) of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, which aims to restore degraded aquatic ecosystems and benefit aquatic habitats.
CAP projects are like any other USACE civil works project in that they require a feasibility study to determine what the project would be and if it is a beneficial use of government funds to construct a project. The benefit to small municipalities is that the first $100,000 of a CAP feasibility study is funded fully by the federal government. If a study extends beyond that, the work is equally cost-shared between the government and the non-federal sponsor. If a project is approved and funded for construction, the cost-share changes to 65 percent for the federal government and 35 percent for the sponsor.
In the case of Polk Swamp, the non-federal sponsor is Dorchester County, who filed a letter of intent to have the Charleston District conduct a feasibility study in 2010. Due to funding constraints, no new CAP projects were being funded by USACE at that time, but when funds became available in 2013, many projects vied for the limited funds.
"Polk Swamp competed well for funding because we had a good idea what the federal interest benefits could be," said Patrick. "We had already done our site investigation report from our initial visit, so we had an idea of what we wanted to do for the project and many other competing proejcts didn’t have that yet."
Now, the Charleston District is in the initial phases of the feasibility study for Polk Swamp. The goal of the project will be to restart the natural process in the ecosystem. The streams are extremely overrun with fallen trees, invasive grasses and weeds, and obstructed channel beds. This will involve using machinery to clear the streams to reestablish the natural contours and flows. This will eliminate stagnant water and help revitalize surrounding trees and wildlife.
"Polk Swamp makes significant contributions to bottomland hardwoods, like gum and cypress trees, and other disappearing species in the South," said Patrick. "We’re hoping to have the feasibility study done by the end of 2014 so that we can get started in this ecosystem restoration effort when funding becomes available."