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- 2013 - January - 11th -
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Exchange Club Island sits below the Mathews Bridge in the St. Johns River east of Downtown.
Photo by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
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Exchange Club Island tops City FIND list

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

The mayor's office and City have begun reviewing possible projects in and near the St. Johns River, with both expressing interest to make improvements to Exchange Club Island below the Mathews Bridge.

Mayor Alvin Brown has released his prioritized list of projects he would like to seek matching funds for from the Florida Inland Navigational District.

The City's Waterways Commission district subcommittee discussed the list at a Jan. 7 meeting and the full commission will discuss Jan. 28.

The proposed Exchange Club Island project is to design and permit a small boat dock and shoreline kayak area for the island to improve boater access. The project also calls for a hiking trail and pavilions with tables and grills.

The subcommittee consists of commission members Gary Anderson, Lane Burnett, Ralph Hodges and Scott Shine.

"Exchange (Club Island) is a good opportunity. I think it is an asset that we should have more access to," said Anderson.

All four commission subcommittee members agreed to support the project. It is at the top of a list of 11 proposed projects totaling $880,000 in City costs. The list will be reviewed by City Council before the City files applications for grants by April 1.

Other projects include Sisters Creek dock redesign, installing Ortega channel markers, County Road Boat ramp improvements, replacement of Northbank Riverwalk Bridge, creating a kayak launch at Sidney Gefen Riverwalk Park and a Northshore kayak launch.

The City has made Exchange Club Island a priority because it wants to improve water access destinations. It is working with the National Park System to find out how to make the island a "blueway" destination.

"(The City's) aspiration is to connect some of these blueway trails so people can more easily enjoy these water access destinations. While waterways issues have been priorities of previous administrations, Mayor Brown has really brought attention to it during his time in office," said Kelly Boree, director of parks and recreation for the City.

Blueway projects, which are trails on the water, already have begun to the north and south of Jacksonville, said Boree.

"Including Exchange Club Island would help tie them all together and encourage those looking to enjoy a nature-based vacation to visit Jacksonville," said Boree.

The U.S. National Park Service has been assisting Jacksonville to achieve blueway status by providing its technical knowledge of the process, but the district funds will be needed to pay for improvements to the island.

The district process involves two stages: design and permitting, and construction.

"Once you are funded for the design you are pretty much guaranteed to get the construction dollars. I can't say that 100 percent, but that's pretty much, because that's the way their cycle works," said Jody McDaniel, City planner.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

(904)356-2466

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