Everglades Skyway to increase water flow south

LAKE OKEECHOBEE — With the second phase of work to raise portions of the Tamiami Trail near completion, on Oct. 30, Gov. Rick Scott announced that he is directing an immediate $3.5 million investment by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to start work on the final phase of the major Everglades restoration project to raise portions of the trail, allowing more water to flow south through the Everglades.

Participants in the Oct. 30, 2018, ceremony. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Gov. Scott also announced that he is directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to request an additional $40 million to complete this important project, which continues Florida’s work to restore the Everglades while Congress remains $1 billion behind in its commitments. Gov. Scott made these announcements while celebrating the completion of phase two of the Tamiami Trail project.

Since construction in 1928, Tamiami Trail has blocked the Everglades’ natural north-to-south flow of water, cutting off the natural sheetflow of freshwater that ran from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park. Through a series of bridges, the National Park Service is planning to elevate a total of 6.5 miles of the roadway to reconnect historic sloughs between Water Conservation Areas to the north of the trail and Everglades National Park to the south.

The first project of 1.1 miles of raised bridging was completed in 2013.

The second phase, which includes bridging of 2.6 miles, started in 2016.

The third phase will bring the total of raised bridging to about 6 miles.

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said: “Today’s announcement was a double victory for the Everglades. We’re celebrating not only the completion of a vital component of a key restoration project, but we’re also fast-tracking the next — and final — phase of the Tamiami Trail. Sending water south and restoring a more natural flow is crucial for restoring and protecting Florida’s iconic Everglades.”

Superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks Pedro Ramos said: “The National Park Service applauds the State of Florida and their continued commitment to restoring America’s Everglades. Completing the remaining work on the Tamiami Trail is critical to moving the water south into the park and the marine areas that depend on it.”

The Sierra Club, however, criticized the timing of Gov. Scott’s Oct. 30 announcement.

Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone issued the following statement: “Gov. Rick Scott held a self-serving, restricted attendance media event just one week before Election Day that was disguised as a major Everglades announcement. It’s political pandering at its worst designed to benefit his election campaign against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“What was the rush? Scott’s advisory was released less than three hours before the Miami press conference.

“Instead of using the media event to celebrate a shared federal-state success on the Tamiami Trail bridging, Scott used it to attack Congress for not spending more money on Everglades projects. Could he get more political?

“Environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, Audubon Florida, Center for Biological Diversity, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Conservancy of SW Florida, Florida Oceanographic Society and other members of the Everglades Coalition that advocated for the project and provided input on the Tamiami Trail bridging project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service for more than a decade weren’t invited to attend.

“A great many people worked on building those bridges from the time the Sierra Club placed it on the public agenda as the ‘Everglades Skyway.’ For the governor to slight the very groups that brought us to this day is an insult and a rewriting of history to serve his political ends. Did he fear that Everglades supporters would show up holding Red Tide Rick protest signs?”

In 2016, the projected cost of the 2.6 miles of bridging was estimated at $180 million. The State of Florida pledged half of that total, financing up to $30 million per year for three years, with funding to come from the FDOT work plan.

According to the governor’s office 2016 press release, the ultimate completion of the project will provide numerous benefit to the region, including:

• Passing an additional 215,000 acre-feet of water from the northern part of the system, including Lake Okeechobee, to the south;

• Aiding in the reestablishment of historical seasonal water depths and flooding durations that are critical to the survival of many fish and wildlife species;

• Allowing water managers additional flexibility to deal with regional and system-wide flood protection; and

• Providing water managers flexibility in addressing Lake Okeechobee seasonal high water levels.

For comparison: 215,000 acre-feet is about 60.2 billion gallons of water. One inch of water in Lake Okeechobee is about 12 billion gallons.

Construction on the Tamiami Trail from Oct. 18, 2018, when FDOT began removing sections.

 

Tamiami Trail bridge photo courtesy of USACOE.

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

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