The case for cleaning up

Modern American cities should not be brought to their knees by a thunderstorm.

Especially modern American cities along the Gulf of Mexico, where weather events that bring heavy rain are not unusual.

We can have one of the 10 best streets in America, but if you need a canoe to cross it, we’ve got a problem.

Infrastructure is usually something that no one pays much mind to until it fails. But in our city by the bay, “failure” of our stormwater system to handle a rain event is becoming too frequent for comfort.

Recently, the City of Pensacola got $2.1 million to improve flooding in downtown Pensacola and water quality in Pensacola Bay.

The funds come from fines levied against oil giant BP and Transocean related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill. It is among six projects in Florida to receive funding, which totals $15.7 million according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The projects were developed with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and federal resource agencies, and are designed to remedy harm or reduce the risk of future harm to natural resources affected by the spill.

Pensacola is using its award to build the Government Street Regional Stormwater Pond at Corrine Jones Park, which will use a stormwater treatment pond similar to the one at Admiral Mason Park.

The project will be designed to capture and treat stormwater runoff from 40 acres in downtown Pensacola that currently discharges untreated runoff directly into Pensacola Bay.

It will include a two-tier treatment system with pretreatment units to remove debris and floatables prior to entering the wet detention pond. In addition to its water quality improvement, the pond will also serve as a wetland habitat for a variety of bird and other species.

Mayor Ashton Hayward has said that stretch of Government Street has a chronic flooding problem that needs to be addressed to continue to improve the quality of life downtown.

He points to the stormwater project at Admiral Mason Park as evidence that infrastructure improvement can be aesthetically appealing and serve a deeply practical purpose. He wants the Corrine Jones Park project to have a similar feel.

And getting this BP fine money is a boost for the project, because stormwater improvement, like everything else in government, costs money.

“I have been lobbying for this money for close to a year,” Hayward said. “I am thrilled to deliver this improvement to the citizens of Pensacola.”

It has become a mayoral mantra -- if we clean it, they will come -- and while it may sound superficial at first blush, the idea is valid.

Indeed many of the recommendations in the now one-year-old report on revitalizing downtown -- known as the Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee report -- revolved around improving the area’s physical appearance.

And many of those suggestions do not come with a high price tag, by the way. 

Shabby privately and publicly owned properties; code violations that seem to linger forever, the sign for the Pensacola Technology Campus, which for nearly three years has been vacant.

Decades of urban blight and population loss cannot be cured by lawnmowers and a coat of paint alone.

But in a community that seems to struggle mightily with moving forward, the little things mean a lot. Here’s to making the baby steps, one stormwater project at a time.