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Southbank’s $7.4 million riverbank restoration, stabilization project moving forward after 10 years

A project to stabilize the banks of the Ohio and Licking Rivers in Kenton and Campbell County and restore their ecosystem, which has been 10 years in the making, has finally gotten the green light from the federal government to move forward with construction.

Southbank Partners, the community and economic development organization for seven of Northern Kentucky’s river cities, has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the past decade to make the project a reality.

“This 10-year process has required collaboration among all of our member cities, the Army Corps of Engineers, and our organization’s community partners,” said Jack Moreland, president of Southbank Partners, Inc. “When completed, this project will provide more than four miles of ecosystem restoration and riverside stabilization, which our region sorely needs.”

The $7.4 million project will restore 2,700 linear feet of floodplain forest in Newport and 9,000 linear feet of floodplain forest in Covington along the Ohio and Licking Rivers. It also will restore 19,000 linear feet of naturalized shoreline in the six cities in the study area — Bellevue, Covington, Dayton, Ludlow, and Newport.

“The floodplain restoration work will involve the removal of invasive species by cutting down or using herbicide on trees and other plant life and then planting native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants,” Moreland said. “The shoreline restoration work will be regrading banks to more gentle slopes, removing unstable materials and installing different soils and installing erosion-control features, where appropriate, and also removing evasive species and replacing them with native plant species.”

To move forward with this project the Army Corps of Engineers required the local cities in the study area to provide a local match of $1.5 million for the design and construction work on the project.

“We recognized our member cities were facing serious financial difficulties because the state has mandated substantial increases in their contributions to the Kentucky retirement system and because of other expenses,” Moreland said. “We knew this would likely prevent these cash-strapped cities from being able to fund the local match, so Southbank Partners reached out to local companies, foundations, and individuals in our region to raise the local match. Thankfully, we have a very giving community and we were able to raise in excess of $1 million as the cities’ match for this project.”

The next step in this years-long process is that the five cities in the study area each must sign a letter of intent with the Army Corps of Engineers so the agency can move forward with design and construction work, Moreland said. Once that is done, the Corps will work with the city engineers in each city to design the proposed improvements, a process that is expected to take about eight months.

“Once the project is designed, we think it will take about one year for the construction phase to be completed,” he said. “We are hopeful that, if things run smoothly, this project will be finished by the end of 2022.”

One of the other benefits of this project is that the Army Corps of Engineers will need to create via trails within the study area for access purposes for future maintenance of the properties in the study area.

“That means that these trails along the Ohio River could become a part of Southbank’s signature project, Riverfront Commons,” Moreland said.

When completed, Riverfront Commons will be an 11.5-mile uninterrupted trail that links six of the Southbank river cities – Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton, and Fort Thomas – and provides easy linkage to the residential neighborhoods and business, entertainment, and historic districts within these cities. The trail features paths that accommodate walkers, joggers, and bikers, as well as river access points where people can launch kayaks and canoes.See the website to view an interactive website about the trail and its features in each of the river cities.

“More than one-half of the Riverfront Commons project has now been completed,” Moreland said. “The construction of trails associated with the ecosystem restoration project can provide a big boost toward extending this trail system in our member cities, which will promote our ultimate goal of having one continuous trail system that runs along the Ohio River from Ludlow to Fort Thomas.”

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