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Posted: August 15, 2010 12:00 a.m.

The pier to nowhere

Pier over wetlands valuable for students, eyesore to others

By Brittany Thomas /

Many Covington residents who pass by City Hall are left confused by what they see.

"Why is there a pier leading to and abruptly ending right in the middle of a swamp?" they’ve been known to ask. "Is there a purpose for the pier? Is this really the best use of our tax money?"

The area’s probably closer to a marsh than a swamp, although they’re both types of wetlands. Yes there is a purpose, but it’s not exactly the original purpose. And technically, the stormwater charge is a fee, not a tax, and the project also included a fair chunk of federal grant money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Truth be told, the pier was originally designed to span the entire wetlands area and tie into Newton County’s trail system. This would have been especially useful if the city or county ever purchased the railroad and converted it into a trail, as was described in several prior plans.

However, as with so many construction projects, particularly those dealing with difficult terrain, the project’s costs escalated and funding ran short. The result is half of a trail, also known as a pier.

"A lot of people think it’s a fishing pier," said Tres Thomas, Covington’s city engineer and overseer of its stormwater fund. "It turned out to be very expensive, so we scaled back on the construction."

Though some see the site as an eyesore, it’s actually been quite beneficial for science students at Oxford College.

The more important part of the project was actually the restoration of the wetlands. Thomas said the Dried Indian Creek was on the state’s impaired biota list. The city managed to trace the damage being done to the wildlife in the creek back to the sediment that gets in the stream – one of the often unseen consequences of stormwater runoff. The plantings in the creek were added to act as a buffer and filter out this sediment, leaving more pure water as the only addition to the wetlands.

"The pier at the wetland restoration site in Covington is a great way to view the wetlands," said Theodosia Wade, a biology lecturer at Oxford College. Wade’s Environmental Science students, and other science teachers, frequently visit the pier to study the transformation of the wetlands. In fact, the site is a major component of a two-week workshop put on by the college.

"(They) can trace the entire path stormwater takes from the moment it first hits the pavement in the parking lot, as it travels through the forebays, to its last stop at the wetlands. The forebays and wetlands are made accessible to students by the pier" Wade said in an e-mail. "Walking along the pier, students are able to get a close-up view of the wetland vegetation and wildlife, and gain a better understanding of how the wetlands help protect rivers and streams from stormwater runoff. Without the pier students would not have access to this site. I can't imagine taking a class to this site without the pier."

Wade also commented that the plantings are having their desired effect as species diversity of both vegetation and wildlife has increased.

As with so many things, the end result didn’t quite match the plans. The $199,576 paid to Cline Service Corp. by the City of Covington, in addition to a federal grant of $158,652, didn’t result in a fully functional trail, but it did lead to a useful teaching tool.

It appears the pier will remain just that for the foreseeable future, but the original plans are there, in case future interest should ever arise.

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