Some stalled Everglades restoration gets back on track

kwadlow@keynoter.comMay 3, 2014 

Everglades restoration is key to the health of Florida Bay.

KEYSINFONET

A delayed Everglades restoration project near U.S. 1 leading to the Florida Keys could soon be revived as a result of agreements reached this week.

Construction that should complete the western portion of the C-111 South Dade project to store more water and direct water to areas that need it -- including Florida Bay -- was welcomed by conservation groups. But the uncertain fate of the larger Central Everglades Planning Project Central remains a critical concern.

"There are a lot of different pieces" to Everglades restoration that ultimately will affect Florida Bay, said Thomas Van Lent of Key Largo, chief scientist for the Everglades Foundation. "You need a program to follow the players."

Progress on the C-111 project "is good news," Lent said, but Florida congressional representatives, state officials and conservationists are pushing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for quick action on the Central Everglades plan. "That's the real prize," Van Lent said Thursday.

The series of Central Everglades projects, budgeted at $1.9 billion and to be shared by the state and federal governments, would provide the fresh water that would be delivered to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Currently that water is carried to Florida's coasts, where it has damaged marine ecosystems.

The Central Everglades plan hit a snag in late April when the Corps cited technical details as a reason to withhold final approval. That could lead to a delay, possibly of several years, in congressional funding.

Gen. John Peabody of the Army Corps appeared before a Tuesday hearing of the U.S. House's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and said approval could be given before July.

"He did not really give a date certain, nor did he explain what the holdup is," Van Lent said. "The Florida [congressional] delegation showed up in force, and it was not happy."

Details of the C-111 project

The western C-111 project, on the design boards for 20 years, seeks to "improve water deliveries to Everglades National Park" and to Taylor Slough, which carries fresh water toward the bay, a Corps report summarizes. "Features ... include the Northern Detention Basin which is designed to reduce seepage losses from Everglades National Park."

Construction of the C-111 Canal for flood control disrupted much of the natural water flow, starving the southern Everglades ecosystem of water and increasing the salinity of Florida Bay.

A new one-mile bridge built on U.S. 41 to increase the water flow beneath the Tamiami Trail is carrying water, but a water-retention area and barriers to keep water inside the national park remain to be finished. They were expected to be done in 2012.

"This probably is the piece that we still have to finalize to get the maximum amount of water from the bridge," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Everglades policy manager for Florida Audubon.

"It's exciting but it's another example of a project that has not advanced because of the internal bureaucratic process," she said. "It's got congressional support and community support, but when the folks who happen to be in agency positions cannot agree, it gets held up."

No start date for resumption of construction has been set, and costs of several million dollars were still being calculated. Once work begins, it could take from 18 months to two years to finish, Hill-Gabriel said.

Caroline McLaughlin of the National Parks Conservation Association said, "Combined with the one-mile bridge on Tamiami Trail, the C-111 South Dade Project will flow more water south through Everglades National Park and Florida Bay."

A C-111 spreader-canal system east of the 18-Mile Stretch also is planned, but managers want the results from the western system first.

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