SFWMD hires executive director, approves C-43 reservoir bid

WEST PALM BEACH — The new governing board for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), who met for the first time on March 14, hired a new director, approved a contract for multi-million dollar reservoir, and authorized a settlement for a key piece of property for the Kissimmee River Restoration project. The later two items had been on the SFWMD February agenda, but the board could not take action at that meeting because there were not enough members to make up a quorum. Upon taking office in January, Governor Ron Desantis asked the board appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott to resign. By Feb. 14, only four Scott appointees were still on the board and Desantis’ new appointees had not taken office.

At their March meeting, the governing board hired Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary at the Department of Environmental Protection, as the new SFWMD executive director. Mr. Bartlett will start work for SFWMD on April 1. Mr. Bartlett previously served as Director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration, responsible for setting water quality standards, monitoring and assessing surface water quality, establishing restoration goals and adopting restoration plans. Prior to his service at DEP, Bartlett spent 17 years implementing the federal Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Drew Bartlett, new executive director of SFWMD.

The board unanimously approved the final construction contract for the C-43 reservoir, approving a $523,871,000 contract for the construction project.

“This is the largest project that has ever come before a board, and it’s a new board,” said board member Scott Wagner. It’s a project 14 years in the making, and will take another five years to complete, he added.

“This was someone else’s project. Once we vote on it, it’s our project,” said Chairman Chauncey Goss.

Vice Chair Scott Wagner said SFWMD staff and the past governing board deserve credit for putting the project together.

SFWMD project engineer Alan Shirkey said the C-43 reservoir, which will store water south of the Caloosahatchee River in the wet season and supply freshwater flow to the river in the dry season was originally designed in 2004-2007.

“The project was put on hold in 2008,” he said. The design was about 90 percent complete at the time.

The design was re-initiated in 2015, he continued, but by then the standards had changed.

Due to Hurricane Katrina, the Corps added new a new Dam Safety Program.

He said construction companies were required to pass pre-qualification process to be allowed to bid. Six companies were allowed to bid; only four submitted bids, which ranged from $523,871,000 to $879,900,000.

The low bid, C43 Water Management Buildings Joint Venture is the bid from Italian company, Salini Impregilo, which merged with U.S. Construction Company Lane Industries.

The project will take about four years to “substantial completion” and five years to final competition.

Michael Cote, Executive Vice President, Engineering, Bidding and Business Development for the contractor said their bid came in 31 percent lower than their competition. Salini Impregilo has built 250 major dams all over the world, he said, including a set of locks on the Panama Canal.

He said they view the C-43 project as an opportunity for a signature project in the U.S.
“We put our best bid team on it that had best earthwork experience,” he said.

Mr. Cote said the scope and scale of the project might have been intimidating to some of the other bidders.

“This job was high on our target list. It’s a real milestone project,” he said.

“This is a major milestone and step forward for restoring and protecting the Caloosahatchee Estuary, as well as our west coast communities,” said Chairman Goss. “This reservoir will help protect the estuary from damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges during the wet season and ensure there is enough freshwater to meet the environmental needs of the estuary during the dry season.”

SFWMD had previously awarded contracts to conduct work that included clearing the 10,500-acre site of the reservoir in Hendry County and building pump stations needed to operate the reservoir. This final contract awarded by the new Governing Board includes building approximately 19 miles of embankments, allowing the two-cell reservoir to hold 170,000 acre-feet of water at depths of 15-25 feet. The contractor will also build 15 miles of perimeter canals and 14 water control structures as well as recreational features on the site.

The C-43 Reservoir will capture and store runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed and Lake Okeechobee releases during wet months. The reservoir will also provide a supply of fresh water that can be released to the estuary during drier periods to help balance salinity levels and protect plants and wildlife in the estuary.

The district is also partnering with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and local governments to evaluate water quality treatment options associated with the reservoir.

A public process will be launched this year to conduct a feasibility study for identified options.

The governing board listened to a short history lesson about the Kissimmee River before approving the last major land purchase needed to the river restoration project.

Sean Sculley, administrator of the SFWMD Lake and River Ecosystem Section, explained the Kissimmee River channelization was a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to relieve flooding in the upper Kissimmee Basin. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project turned the meandering 103-mile winding river, which had a wide, shallow floodplain, into an efficient 50-mile channel 30 feet deep.

Before the channelization was even complete, there was public outcry in protest of the ecological damage, he said. The result was the Kissimmee River Restoration Project to restore the central portion of the river. Only a portion of the river will be restored, he explained, so that it will still provide flood protection to the upper Kissimmee River Basin.

The agreement, which settles an eminent domain suit, includes three parties in addition to the state:

• Hyatt Citrus LLC and 158.93-acre fee purchase and 11.11-acre easement purchase for total consideration of $6,941,000;
• The Arnold H. Mack Revocable Trust: 153.19-acre fee purchase and 2.42-acre easement purchase for $8,855,000; and,
• Kenneth Hyatt: 5.48-acre fee purchase and 6.05-acre easement purchase for total consideration of $1,001,330.

Total consideration is inclusive of expert and attorney fees, cost to cure, as well as severance damages to the remainder property.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment