City commissioners voted on seven resolutions regarding the McIntosh Preserve. The hope is for the project to be completed in 2022.
McIntosh Park is one step closer to becoming one of the best nature parks in the state following a vote by city commissioners on Monday to enact the next phase in expanding and upgrading the facility.
In 1998, Mike Sparkman, who was mayor at the time, played a key role in securing the McIntosh parcel for the city. The Florida Communities Trust and the Hillsborough County Environmental Land Acquisition and Protection Program spent $1.1 million to acquire the property and then it was owned and operated by the City of Plant City. From there, the dream began to take the shape of turning the massive property into an asset for the city.
Since 2004, approximately 120 acres of the site have been used as stormwater treatment from the City of Plant City’s canal system via an agreement with SWFWMD. In 2015, the site was opened to the public and the 363 acres became a passive recreational park. There are some rudimentary trails cut into the grass at the location and the city has $600,000 dedicated to providing additional park features.
“This is such a complex and impactful project,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “We have a 360-acre natural preserve that belongs to the public, so we are trying to find the best way to be able to develop it and amenitize it to the point that citizens get the best product possible. We want them to have a slice of the Florida wilderness and natural habitat while also preserving it and making it accessible. It’s also ideally situated because of where it’s at and what it is to have a positive and significant impact on our water management strategies for decades to come.”
Essentially, the plan is to use a large portion of the park for water management and then transform the rest into a nature lover’s oasis. Walking trails, an observation tower, educational signage and lots of amenities are in the conceptual plan. McDaniel said the hope is the park can become one of the best nature preserves in the state and draw visitors from all over to Plant City. The expansion will have two miles of pedestrian trails, an elevated wildlife observation tower and parking improvements. There will also be wider family-friendly trails to offer the quickest route to the observation tower.
Following Monday evening’s vote, McDaniel now can execute a 50 percent Cost Share Cooperative Funding Agreement with SWFWMD to get a design plan rolling and for the McIntosh Indirect Potable Reuse Project. The overall cost of the IPR feasibility study and pilot project is $600,000, which will be co-funded with SWFWMD. In total, commissioners voted on seven resolutions relating to the park.
According to the City of Plant City, the overall cost for the initial phase of the wetland expansion project, which consists of the development of the 30 percent design plans, is broken up into two portions.
The cost of the engineering services for the 30 percent wetland expansion project is $609,350 and the cost for a third-party review of the consultant’s work, a SWFWMD requirement, is $65,000, resulting in a total project cost of $674,350. The City received $350,000 through the Florida Legislative Appropriation process (LPA0039) towards the total project cost of $674,350. The city and SWFWMD will share the remaining cost of $324,350. The city will therefore pay $162,175 for this portion of the project.
The plan is for McIntosh to act as the method of developing an integrated water management solution for the city. The park will act as stormwater treatment, mitigate localized flooding, bring a balance to the water supply and have a natural habitat preserve for the public to enjoy. By expanding the wetlands and improving the hydrology of the area the stormwater that is routed offline in the southeastern corner will be treated and reduce 3,000 pounds of nitrogen and 1,500 pounds of phosphorus from the Hillsborough River, according to the city. The city will also have the ability to hydrate the wetland with reclaimed water during dry periods to keep the wetland species that call the area home healthy.
There are three phases planned to finalize the project with the last phase not beginning until the end of 2021. The city is currently in Phase IIA and Phase IIB.
“These are not the steps that get us to the end,” McDaniel said. “Let’s say we broke it up into 10 big steps. We are at step two, maybe step three. But we are moving forward.”