Scenes of the dredging project on the Grand Canal near Pineda Causeway which is part of the Save Our Indian Lagoon Plan. They are removing large amounts of organic muck from waterways in South Patrick Shores and Satellite Beach areas. TIM SHORTT / FLORIDA TODAY

FL - Is dredging up Indian River Lagoon muck the best bang for the buck?

Dredging up the past can get messy — and costly — especially in the Indian River Lagoon.

So as the price and time to get muck out from the Grand Canal area mounts, so do questions about the calculus of future environmental dredging efforts.

Dredging in Florida coastal waters typically just deepens channels. Waterfront property values soar as a result, economists say. But the Grand Canal and other lagoon dredging projects were sold with a different means to make homes worth more: improve water quality.

There are a few skeptics, but lately the dredge vacuuming up decades of dead, rotted plants from these clouded waters has delivered a few hints of hope — an occasional splash of baitfish or birds. But as the $27 million project inches along, some wonder how much all this dredging is truly doing to heal the estuary.

"Where's the wildlife? We don't see anything," said Ayn Samuelson, president of the of the South Patrick Shores Residents Association. Despite concern over the scant wildlife thus far, Samuelson is quick to add that she and her association support the Grand Canal project and that the county and dredging company have made good-faith efforts to manage a large, complex project. "Sometimes you don't know what you're going to get," she said.

What they're getting, as with many complex projects, county officials say, is unforeseen snags. Chief among them: COVID, bad weather and a change in the treatment process of the muck water.

From the onset of the county's $586 million, 10-year half-cent sales tax to clean up the Indian River Lagoon, scientist urged public patience and now assure more proof is coming on the environmental merits of lagoon dredging. Florida Institute of Technology got $3.8 million in state funding to study the concept and has been the primary champion of environmental muck dredging, based on decades of their research.

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