Louisville’s largest urban stream is on the cusp of a major glow up. Last week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on an estimated $121 million project to restore the stream and the habitat along its banks.
Beargrass Creek and its three branches covers a 60-square mile watershed that runs through urban Louisville, past homes, businesses, farmland and through some of the city’s Olmsted parks including Cherokee and Seneca.
The city and its residents haven’t always been very good to the creek. It’s been filled with trash, run off from the city’s asphalt, pavement and yards, and it receives overflow from the city’s sewers when it rains. There’s been fish kills, trash islands, floating pig parts (a long time ago) and lots of garbage: plastic bottles, Styrofoam containers, tires, clothes, tents, doors and at least one engine block.
The project aims to restore 620 acres and nearly nine miles of streams, wetlands and floodplains. Army Corps Project Manager Laura Mattingly says the plan encompasses 12 sites where they’ll improve instream habitat, re-sculpt waterways, add wetlands, take out stream barriers, remove invasive species and add more native plants.
“In addition to the restoration actions, we propose the addition of a boat ramp, trails and trail enhancements, an outdoor classroom and bird watching areas,” Mattingly said. “The plan not only improves the environmental quality of the watershed, it will also give our community more access to green space and recreational opportunities.”
But the city has come to recognize that, and made a number of improvements. For example, The Metropolitan Sewer District is set to begin using the $200 million Waterway Protection Tunnel this summer to reduce sewage overflows into Beargrass Creek.
Three years ago, the U.S. Army Corps began a $3 million feasibility study to assess Beargrass Creek. It was actually the seventh study of its kind, according to David Wicks, a local environmentalist and Beargrass Creek advocate.
This time, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon signed a report authorizing the Three Forks of Beargrass Creek Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study and signaling a major milestone for the project.
“The signing of the Chief’s Report progresses the project to Congress for authorization and is the next step in allowing the Louisville District and our non-federal sponsor to proceed with project implementation,” said Matt Schueler, Chief, Civil Works Planning, Programs, and Project Management Branch, USACE Louisville District.
The next step will be for the Army Corps’ local and congressional partners to sign off on the study.
At the local level, the Metropolitan Sewer District needs to sign off on the project and agree to share in the costs. The Army Corps estimates local costs at around $48.7 million dollars, while the federal cost share is estimated at $72.4 million.
The Army Corps estimated the Beargrass restoration project would contribute more than $95 million to the local economy over the life of the project between 2025 to 2031.