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City of New Smyrna Beach Plans Restoration Project for 1700’s Turnbull Canal

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The New Smyrna Beach City Commission voted to accept over $1.3 million dollars in the form of a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Program. The funding will be used to help clean and restore approximately 1.3 miles of Turnbull Canal from State Road 44 to its endpoint at Old Mission Road. The vote was unanimous and took place at the city commission meeting held on June 13, 2023. 

The portion of the canal system qualified for a watershed program grant, a 75 percent cost share. According to a recent press release by the city, as part of the agreement, the city will receive technical and financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and will contribute $407,057 towards the project from its Stormwater Utility Fund.

“The canal system has been neglected for at least 50 years,” expressed resident Donna Athearn at the Turnbull Creek Land Preservation Committe’s meeting held on June 19th. “The canals are eight feet wide or more. Heavy barges traveled through with lumber and harvested cabbage palms.” Athearn, serves as chairwoman of the city’s TCLPC. The public can access the video replay of the committee meeting at the city’s website, www.CityofNSB.com, under the agenda and minutes tab. 

The Turnbull Canal System is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the national archives, all of the canals in the Turnbull Canal System currently function as water-control devices that carry stormwater and runoff to the Intracoastal Waterway (Indian River) or Turnbull Bay, which empties into the river via Spruce Creek. 

The historical accounts state, “It is presumed that Andrew Turnbull’s workers hand dug the canals to drain swampy land, irrigate agricultural fields and transport people and goods. In 1774, Turnbull adopted the “Egyptian mode of watering” after a severe drought. In a time before modern machinery, using ancient Egyptian methods of crop irrigation, the network of historic canals is one of the most influential infrastructure upgrades that resulted from the Turnbull Settlement during the late 1700s.”

“This is stunning to me. I never thought I’d see the day and I’m stoked,” remarked Athearn to city commissioners during the city commission meeting. “This could be the largest historic restoration project of the oldest Egyptian irrigation system on U.S. soil.”

Historic archives report that two eighteenth century maps document Turnbull’s canal system, now known as Gabardy Canal. Turnbull’s Grand Canal is shown on an 1803 Spanish map. Canal feature is labeled drain. 

According to a city news release, future milestones on the project’s timeline before work begins include holding a pre-design conference within 30 days of the agreement’s execution, obtaining permits, survey and design, finalizing plans, soliciting bids, and awarding a contract to perform the work.

Currently, the city is planning a separate dredge project to clean and restore the portion of the canal system located from Old Mission to Jungle Road and has allocated the funding. For links to city happenings, agendas and meetings, follow the city of New Smyrna Beach at www.CityofNSB.com and across social media platforms. 

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