By the Naples Daily News Editorial Board
When it comes to the plan to build a 16,000-acre reservoir system south of Lake Okeechobee, we don’t like the sound of that.
Neither do the region’s representatives in Congress or the Everglades Foundation, which sees the project as critical for improved water quality and flow through South Florida’s “River of Grass.”
Even Friends of the Everglades, a separate environmental group that has criticized the project for being too small, is not thrilled with the designation.
Congressional Representatives Brian Mast and Francis Rooney, who represent areas of the east and west coasts of Florida hardest hit by discharges of polluted water from Lake O, along with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, say the Corps is violating the will of Congress that the project be considered part of the Central Everglades Planning Project.
It was approved in 2016; it is not a “new start.”
The new start designation means work will be delayed by a year or more, they argued in a joint statement issued last week after the Corps announcement.
“Through the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, Congress was crystal clear that the EAA reservoir is a part of the Central Everglades Planning Project and does not require a ‘new start’ designation. The Army Corps is ignoring Congressional intent, which will delay construction of the project by at least a year. We will continue to do everything in our power to force the Army Corps to follow Congress’ directive that the EAA Reservoir be completed ASAP,” they wrote.
Said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, “Mind-numbing bureaucracy and red tape cannot stand in the way of restoring the Everglades and protecting the economy of America’s third-largest state.”
A Friends of the Everglades analysis of the project in 2018 indicated it would be too small to effectively clean water coming out of the Everglades. But the addition of a filtering marsh system helped soften that view and the group weighed in with its own objection to the Corps designation.
“While Friends of the Everglades has serious concerns about the current, shrunken-down format of the EAA Reservoir project, the Army Corps of Engineers’ insistence on a ‘new start’ designation looks like a needless bureaucratic hurdle. We hope any construction delays resulting from this will be used to improve the design of the EAA Reservoir,” wrote Eve Samples, executive director of the group.
Army Corps officials say the designation doesn’t necessarily mean the completion of the reservoir, now envisioned in 2028, will be delayed.
Still, the new start designation, which stems from the wording of bills passed by Congress, strikes us as what its critics claim — bureaucracy in action. It has been abundantly clear that the reservoir is an integral part of Everglades restoration and we see nothing new about it. It’s been in the plans in one form or another since the early 2000s.
Work on the filtering marsh portion of the project, being done by the South Florida Water Management District, got underway last month.
That was a welcome bit of news, actual construction of a long-delayed and vital project.
This Army designation tempers our optimism that things were moving in the right direction. We don’t like the sound of that at all.
Brent Batten wrote this for the Naples Daily News editorial board.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.