Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Glades advocates optimistic about restoration

The re-election of President Obama last week has left Everglades advocates bullish about the future of restoration efforts.

"In light of the elections, we are feeling optimistic that the progress on Everglades restoration will continue and even speed up," Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon's director of Everglades policy, told the Free Press last week. "The fact is, over the past four years we've seen more progress than the 20 years before that combined."

Environmentalists hail the Obama Administration for investing nearly $900 million on Glades projects over the president's first term.

Included in that total is the $81 million Tamiami Trail project, which is expected to be complete within a year. The project, featuring a one-mile bridge designed to enhance water flow from the north into Everglades National Park, had been mired in a maze of bureaucratic red tape for two decades before work finally began in 2009.

Other federal restoration projects that have begun over the past four years include one designed to improve flow into the 55,000-acre Picayune Strand near Naples and another to restore the Indian River Lagoon, on Florida's central Atlantic coast.

John Adornato, who heads the South Florida office of the National Parks Conservation Association, said one reason for his own optimism about Everglades restoration over the next four years is the president's commitment to jump-starting infrastructure projects.

Obama spoke frequently during the campaign about putting people back to work through public works investments. He continued to press the point at a post-election news conference last Friday in which he spoke of his plan to deal with the looming "fiscal cliff" negotiations over the budget deficit.

"It's a plan to put folks back to work, including our veterans, rebuilding our roads and our bridges, and other infrastructure," Obama said.

One project Adornato believes fits the president's model is the next phase of Tamiami Trail work.

"Tamiami is incredible disrepair," he said. "There is no one that would deny that."

Congress has already authorized the project, which will feature an additional 5.5 miles of bridges. Meanwhile, the National Park Service has begun engineering the improved roadway, according to Adornato.

But construction is expected to cost as much as $300 million, none of which has been funded.

A potential source of money, said Hill-Gabriel, is the RESTORE Act, the law the president signed over the summer for the distribution of an anticipated $5 billion to $20 billion in BP fines to coastal states that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Many other Everglades restoration projects still need congressional authorization before they are even eligible for funding.

The most likely route for those authorizations would come through the Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA, which Congress has not updated since 2007.

Hill-Gabriel stressed that the Obama administration has taken pains to move Everglades restoration along where it can.

But without new action from Congress, the pace of progress could slow.

"Everything that we have approval to work on is under way," she said.


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