So What’s Up With Stick Marsh? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

So What's Up With Stick Marsh?

What’s Up?

I spent some time on Monday morning with the crane family of four. After lunch, Jim and I drove over to Circle B Bar Reserve near Lakeland and enjoyed a three mile walk through the Pond Cypress. I brought the 200-600 G lens, the 600mm f/4 GM, and both teleconverters. An Alpha 1 was mounted on each lens. I went light with the no longer available GIT 204 topped by a Levered-Clamp FlexShooter Mini. There were dozens of birds at close range — Common Moorhens, Great and Little Blue Herons, Great and Cattle Egrets, and Anhingas. The wind was from the east by slightly north. The gentle backlight with the sun in the southwest was do-able, but almost every bird was facing into the wind, directly away from us. I created very few images.

The forecast for today, Tuesday 21 December 2021, is for thunderstorms pretty much all day long, with the heaviest rain in the morning. It is not likely that I will get out to do much photography. Maybe …

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope that you too have a great day. This blog post took more than 40 hours to prepare, including the time spent on trying to figure out what is going on at Stick Marsh, and makes 41 consecutive days with a new one.

If, after reading today’s post, you have any ideas as how I might proceed, please leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. It would seem that the next likely stuff would be to contact the Orlando Sentinel and perhaps other Florida newspapers. The single question that really needs to be answered is this: Why didn’t FL DEP or the USFWS respond to the e-mailed requests for input from FWC? At the very least, the FWC knew of the rookery as they designated it as a Critical Wildlife Area (CWA).

December 6, 2021. The two rookery islands can be seen directly behind the piles of steel beams that are about 50 yards from the closest point of the rookery islands.

So What’s Up With Stick Marsh?

First off, let me say that I have no idea if the breeding birds at Stick Marsh will be negatively affected by the S-96 Control Structure Rehabilitation Project currently underway at Fellsmere Grade Recreation Area. It seems very likely that at least some disturbance will occur. Is there a chance that the entire colony might abandon the site at some point (assuming that they build nests and lay eggs in the first place)? Yes.

In short, I have been trying to learn why it seems that the rookery there was not considered at all during the permitting process. The project is being done under the auspices of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

I learned on Monday morning that Indian River County Stick Marsh was designated as Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) by the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). In addition, I learned that Tricolored Heron, like Roseate Spoonbill, is protected as a State-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. Tricolored also breed at Stick Marsh. You can learn more here and here.

Ironically, I found this at the first link: Disturbance is a major factor affecting nesting success.

If you would like a copies of the two permits, please shoot me an e-mail with S-96 Permits as the Subject Line.

I sent the e-mail below on Monday morning. It summarizes my concerns and frustrations. At the time of publication, I have heard back only from Greg Workman, Regional Director, FWC. He wrote via e-mail:

I will follow-up with our biologist to see if someone can contact you to assist you with your concerns.

Jerry Lorenz
State Research Director
Everglades Science Center
Audubon Florida

Hi Jerry,

I hope that you are well and safe. Do you know about the S-96 Control Structure Rehabilitation Project at Stick Marsh?

I have been trying to gather information on the permitting for this project. Gretchen Kelley, Senior Professional Engineer, Bureau of Projects and Construction, for the St. Johns River Water Management District has been very helpful. Most others, including folks at Audubon Florida, FWC, FL DEP, and USFWS have been anything but responsive to my queries.

Daniel Shideler of FWC wrote in part, We sent an email out to state agencies on 4/15/21 and then one on 4/28/21, and we did not receive any comments or conditions from Florida Fish and Wildlife or U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

A document entitled S-96 Rehab FDP ERP GP makes no mention of any threatened species.

I did find the following in a document entitled S-96 Rehab FDEP 404 GP:

(k) Listed species. No activity is authorized under any general permit which is likely to directly or indirectly jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or threatened species or a species proposed for such designation, or which will directly or indirectly destroy or adversely modify the critical habitat of such species. No activity is authorized under any general permit which may affect a listed species or critical habitat, unless the Agency has consulted with, or been provided technical assistance by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service under their respective authorities and appropriate measures to address the effects of the proposed activity have been implemented or are required as a specific condition to the general permit.

As Roseate Spoonbill is protected both by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule, and because Stick Marsh is an FWC designated Critical Wildlife Area, I am baffled that FL DEP granted permits for this project and equally baffled that USFWS did not play any role in the permitting.

Considering the timing, the proximity (the scheduled project almost perfectly overlaps the breeding season), the pile driving, and the scale of this project, do you feel that there is at least the potential for disturbance of the nesting colonies?

Considering the timing, (the scheduled project almost perfectly overlaps the breeding season), the proximity, the pile driving, and the scale of this project, do you feel that there is a possibility that the birds might abandon the site this season? Please see the photos here.

Is there any way to stop this project?

Do you have any idea as to how FL DEP could have issued permits for this project?

Do you have any idea why a USWFS permit was not required for this project?

Do you have any idea why neither FL DEP nor USFWS responded to the e-mails from FWC?

Do you have any idea why I am being stone-walled by most of the folks mentioned above?

Is there any baseline research data on the nesting spoonbills Tricolored Herons at the two tree islands in the St. John’s Water Management Area’s Stick Marsh/Farm 13 Reservoir in Fellsmere, west of Vero Beach where hundreds of state-imperiled Roseate Spoonbills and Tricolored Herons join Snowy and Great Egrets to nest from January to July each year?

At this point I am begging you for help. Feel free to call me at 863-221-2372. Please leave a message and shoot me a text if I do not pick up.

Thanks with love, artie

Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Cc: Julie Wraithmell (Audubon Florida); Gretchen Kelly (St. Johns River Water Management District); Daniel Shideler (FL DEP); Annie Dziergowski (USFWS); Mark Smith; Greg Workman (Regional Director, FWC)

December 6, 2021. There will be lots of pile driving done during this reconstruction project. At the very least, the bird’s flight paths to and from the rookery will be altered.

Description of the Project

Adapted from e-mailed information kindly provided By Gretchen Kelly of the St. Johns River Water Management District

Good afternoon, Mr. Morris. Thank you for your inquiry. The project you are referencing is the rehabilitation of Structure S-96. This critical flood control structure is over 50 years old and is due for major repairs. The contractor is installing a sheet pile cofferdam (*) on the east and west sides of the structure. The structure will be pumped dry so that repairs can be made to the concrete structure, steel gate, and wingwalls. Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued the Environmental Resource Permit and the State 404 Permit. Please see the attached permits. The project complies with the applicable laws and regulations.

Installation of the west cofferdam is currently under way and is located over 100 yards from the nearest point of the rookery. Installation of the west cofferdam is scheduled to be complete by mid-January. The east cofferdam is a couple hundred yards further east of the rookery and is scheduled to be complete by late February. The cofferdams will be removed in May 2022, and the entire project is scheduled to be complete by late July 2022.

You can find additional information using this link to the District’s news release for the project: Also, for public safety and to facilitate job productivity, public access across the structure is limited. Refer to the recreation announcements section of the District’s website:

cofferdam (*): /ˈkôfərˌdam. Noun. A watertight enclosure pumped dry to permit construction work below the waterline.

The general, anticipated sequence of construction is as follows: After completion of the west cofferdam in mid-January, the crane will be used to remove the hydraulic hoists and steel gates from the structure. The crane will be moved to the east side of the structure and used to install the east cofferdam, which will be located about 200 yards from the nearest point of the rookery. After the cofferdam is complete, the structure will be pumped dry and kept dry while the contractor preps, patches, and recoats the concrete and exposed steel wingwalls. Additional dirt and rocks will be placed near the bottom of the structure where erosion may be present. The gate will be renovated off-site. The renovated gates and new hoists will be re-installed before removal of the cofferdams (with the crane). Repairs to this critical, federal flood control structure can only be conducted during the dry season and should not be out of operation during hurricane season.

As with any construction project, the schedule is subject to change due to adverse conditions or unforeseen circumstances.

The contractor is and will be using the crane, which is equipped with a vibratory hammer, to drive the steel beams (piles) and steel sheet piles for the cofferdam. The sheet piles are shown in the picture that you included in your 12/6 email. The contractor will use the same crane and vibratory hammer to drive steel piles for the boat barriers and staff gauges; that will likely be done in late May at the earliest.

We anticipate that the steel piles west of the structure will be gone (in the water) upon completion of the cofferdams. Many have already been used on the west cofferdam, the remaining ones will be used on the east cofferdam. Any new steel piles for the east cofferdam will likely be stored east of the S-96 structure until that cofferdam is complete. Based on my site visit today, the west cofferdam is progressing faster than expected and will likely be complete before the New Year. The steel piles for the boat barriers and staff gauges (about 10 total), will be delivered and staged somewhere on site at a later date, probably in April or May. The crane will be moved to the east side of the structure shortly after completion of the west cofferdam, and before mid-January.

An EIS (Environmental Impact State) was not conducted for the S-96 Rehabilitation Project


With all blog posts, feel free to e-mail or to leave a comment regarding any typos or errors.

10 comments to So What’s Up With Stick Marsh?

  • avatar Bruce Masters

    Thank you Arthur. We have been going to the stick marsh for years. We went on Dec 16th when they had access to the TM Goodwin area. Both my wife and myself commented on the terrible timing of the construction. If it was emergency work, that’s one thing. If it was scheduled work that needed to get done at some point over the next year it’s a shame it was allowed to happen prior to and during nesting season. Anyone that has been to the area Dec-Mar knows what takes place there as far as the rookery goes. We only saw one line Spoonbill on the 16th in the trees on one of the islands. We can only hope that the birds will return on subsequent years if they are lucky enough to nest elsewhere this year. I suspect the damage may be done already. Hopefully the person that was responsible for this timing decision will come forward and be transparent with the information that was used to allow this to happen.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi Bruce,

      YAW. I am still working. They cannot do the repairs during hurricane season. The spoonbills do not return to breed until early February. There is a chance that the birds will do just fine this yar. Time will tell. Right now I have lots of questions for FWC but they do not answer my e-mails. I am not quitting yet.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Joel Eade

    Looks like they stone walled you because the project is already underway, hoping you might give up. Based on the photos and the response you got I suspect whatever damage it does to the wildlife has pretty much already been done at this point. Kudos for trying to make a difference.

  • avatar David Pugsley

    You’re doing good work Artie. While I don’t see this project getting altered at this point, at least they know people are watching. With any luck the birds will pay it no mind.

  • avatar Adam

    In effect they (the regulators) don’t give a rat’s a$$ about the effect on WL. Not surprised that these bureaucrats care less. We recently went through this with our local drain commission who drained a retention basin which was home to fish, amphibians, Muskrats, migratory birds including GBH, Trumpeter Swans, geese, ducks, Sandhill Cranes, Kingfishers, sandpipers… Lost that battle too. Now, we have a 7 acre muddy hole instead.

  • avatar Sarah Sterling

    I suggest the newspapers and please include some of your gorgeous spoonbill photos! The public needs to see what you are defending. Nesting with babies photos always pull heartstrings. At the least you want to try to get them to pause during breeding. It looks like they will say it has to be done now because of the weather. Thanks for taking this on. I sure want to join you there someday soon!

  • avatar George Cottay

    Thanks for posting a fine example of citizen action.

  • avatar Maggi Fuller

    Seems incredible that an EIS was not carried out! As a former civil engineer, I can remember undertaking these myself over 40 years ago! From my then, slim document, Consultants here in the UK now have to sub-contract to environmental experts, and their documentation could fill a room! Ok, so this is not a new highway that would plough through the area, but when there are endangered species that would be directly affected by this project, this seems a huge oversight, and to my mind….. stinks!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks, Maggi. The spoonbills and Tricolored Herons are not endangered. They are both protected as State-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.


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