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Waste Not
Brownfield park plan celebrates bay restoration.
By Kim Sorvig

With hindsight, it was the wrong site and the wrong facility. Half a mile from downtown Jacksonville, North Carolina, a knob of land called Sturgeon City juts into shallow Wilson Bay. "It may have been the worst possible place to put a sewage plant," says John Amodeo of Carol R. Johnson Associates (CRJA), Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Eight to fifteen feet of sludge deposits from the plant gave Wilson Bay a false "floating bottom" in which nothing lived. For 20 years, the bay was closed to all recreational access. "You could take a deep breath and know why," one scientist recalls. In 1998, the plant was decommissioned. The site, plus an adjacent yard-waste landfill, presented a 27-acre opportunity adjoining a major water body that was literally dead.

Today, five 90-foot diameter concrete treatment tanks, 11 vast rectangular beds for drying sludge, and a half-dozen industrial buildings dot the site. When infrastructure fails, denial often begins. But Jacksonville is taking a different approach: reusing this brownfield site to showcase progress in cleaning up Wilson Bay. The site and its relic structures will become museum and park facilities, housing bay species and educating students. Jacksonville Director of Community Affairs Glen Hargett says the city "felt a moral obligation to clean up the bay" and to "celebrate, not hide" the decommissioned treatment plant's lessons.

"If this were 25 years ago," says Amodeo, "a client would have hired a landscape architect for a pretty park to help people forget." Instead CRJA is designing, in Hargett's words, a park "that mimics the industrial complex" while educating about the use, misuse, and healing of this coastal landscape.

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