Among the most erosion-prone portions of the Apalachicola Bay coastline between Eastpoint and Carrabelle are about to get a much-needed stabilization, as part of a "living shoreline" project expected to stretch over the next four years.


Josh Adams, an environmental planner with the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, and Rick Harter, with Ecology and Environment, Inc., a private consultant working closely with the project, unveiled the Franklin 98 project to county commissioners Tuesday morning.


The initial planning and visioning phase of the project, which goes by the theme "Protecting community, conserving the coast," is now underway, thanks to a $125,000 grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, one of several public and private partners in support of it.


To fully complete Franklin 98, the project hopes to receive notice by April of an award of several hundred thousand dollars in two grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation now in the pipeline, to be drawn from NFWF’s Emergency Coastal Resilience and Gulf Environmental Benefit funds.


The Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast, together with its Ed Corps component backed by the Franklin County Schools, have also had an active hand, as their members have completed the test site installations and will monitor the success of the potential reef materials for the project.


The proposed living shoreline project is intended to strengthen coastal US 98 between Eastpoint and Carrabelle, a stretch particularly important because it is a vital link between Apalachicola, Eastpoint, and Carrabelle, a hurricane evacuation route and, for now, the only way to access the Franklin County School.


"Keeping this roadway open is extremely important; if it could be done while enhancing the ecology of the area, even better," said Rick Harter, coastal restoration specialist at Ecology and Environment, Inc. "This opportunity lends itself perfectly for a living shoreline solution.


"Living shorelines and green infrastructure are a hot topic these days," he said. "While employing nature-based solutions is nothing new, a large-scale living shoreline in this area of Florida would be."


He said fringing marsh along the water’s edge would help lock in and secure sediment, with an offshore hard-bottom reef helping to establish the marsh community.


"While they may not preclude the need for harder armoring of the coastline (such as seawalls and riprap), a living shoreline would add another layer of protection to the roadway and allow for a more resilient community," Harter said.


The planning council, in cooperation with the Florida DEP, Franklin’s Promise Coalition, and Ecology & Environment, has initiated a pilot experiment to help in the design of the Franklin-98 living shoreline project.


This is the first step in assessing the effectiveness of four reef materials that could be used as part of the living shoreline design. The materials being tested are granite, limestone, oyster shell, and a commercial product from Sandbar Oyster Company known as Oyster Catcher.


Three locations have been designated as test sites, with DEP and Army Corps of Engineer permits secured for the placement of small quantities of experimental materials. Eventually, some of these materials may be used for developing nearshore reefs to serve as natural breakwaters, allowing for the establishment of a fringing marsh along the coastline.


"The goal is to increase estuarine habitat while helping to address chronic shoreline erosion," said Harter.


He and Adams told commissioners that they have paid particular attention in their suitability analysis to public input as to where US 98 most frequently washes out, as well as mapping seagrass with the help of aerial drones.


"The imagery was pre-Michael," Harter said. "We recognized we need to fly more imagery sorties to better inform coastal analyses."


He said the Sandbar Oyster Company’s biodegradable product out of North Carolina that is being tested consists of jute fiber that has been cemented together into the shape of "lollipops" and "rastas," due to the shape’s resemblance to dreadlocks.


"Under the right conditions spat will aggregate," Harter said, noting that crushed oyster shell, lime rock and granite is also being tested.


Adams said test sites are both offshore and subtidal, that remain sometimes below water level, and intertidals, which are exposed at low tide. He said about 30 acres of hard bottom and 20 acres of fringe marsh will be covered in the 12-mile stretch.


The sites are being placed in areas that are not open to oyster harvesting, but should produce enough spat to have an impact on rejuvenating the bay.


Chairman Noah Lockley asked that sufficient signage be placed to warn fishers from harvesting at the test sites.


Enlisting the help of young people


The ARPC will continue to conduct public outreach, with four public meetings held and well-attended thus far, the last one at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the partners in the Franklin 98 project.


Established in 2015 by the Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative led by the Corps Network, The Nature Conservancy and NFWF, the Conservation Corps of the Forgotten and Emerald Coasts, managed by Franklin’s Promise Coalition, Inc., has trained 160 young adults, from Pensacola to Tallahassee. To date, they have earned earning over 470 industry certifications, completing over 140 conservation/construction projects, and responded to five natural disasters.


In August 2016, ED Corps began as the academic component of the Conservation Corps to provide an opportunity for members to complete their high school diplomas. An official alternative school of the Franklin County School District, the ED Corps program is based out of the Franklin County Learning Center and serves students age 14 and up.


"The focus is to support vulnerable students to complete high school, graduate on time, and if they desire. to join the Conservation Corps as a career training program," said Joe Taylor, director of Franklin’s Promise.


Both Conservation and ED Corps crew members have been trained and mentored to construct and maintain living shorelines by Kim Wren from the Apalachicola National Estuarine Reserve, by staff from the Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves and by the University of Florida’s Master Naturalist program.


Since 2016, They have completed seven living shoreline installations along the Panhandle and continue to monitor and maintain the health of the reefs.


In addition, the crews have established a native plant nursery at the Franklin County Learning Center to propagate marsh grasses for planting at the living shoreline projects. They work together to harvest, divide, pot and monitor plant growth, with the first plant installations to be at the Sawyer Street Living Shoreline on St. George Island in March.


Ed Corps students also are completing the "Grasses in Classes" curriculum provided by the St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association which will provide them a science credit towards their graduation requirements.


The Conservation Corps are financially supported by the National Academies of Sciences, The Nature Conservancy, The Corps Network, NOAA and Duke Energy Foundation.


For more information on Franklin 98 contact Josh Adams, at the ARPC at JAdams@thearpc.com