Will feds pay their share for EAA reservoir?

OKEECHOBEE — Will the federal government fund 50 percent of the cost of the planned Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir?

At their June 14 meeting, members of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board expressed concern that the federal government might not provide the expected 50-50 match to build the EAA reservoir. The reservoir is part of the approved Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Florida Senate Bill-10, passed in 2017, moved up construction of the reservoir, to provide more water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

“They did the study on the SB-10 reservoir, and to my surprise, to everybody’s surprise, we discovered in the fine print of their attached discussion they think they are prohibited from participating in the 50-50 cost share because of water quality and other issues with the water coming from Lake Okeechobee into the reservoir,” said SFWMD board member James Moran.

“We’ve got all of this time and energy we have spent over the last year putting a lot of other projects aside while our staff worked around the clock for the best part of the year to come up with the plan for the EAA reservoir and now we find out that our federal partners question whether they can participate in the funding of it. I wish they had let us know a year ago. Maybe we could have done stuff differently.

“We have all these issues with our federal partners. Their failure to live up to the terms of the agreements with them punishes up.

“If the consent degree is violated, it’s no skin off their nose. We’re the ones under the federal order to get that done.”

He said he has great respect for the Army Corps of Engineers and especially for Col. Jason Kirk and Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, but that he is frustrated with the federal bureaucracy.

“Perhaps it’s time we look again at our local sponsorship of CEPP and see if it is still in our best interest,” he said.

“If our federal partners are not going to step up to the plate with the SB-10 and the EAA reservoir, I think we really need to start thinking about how do we look at this thing,” agreed board member Brandon Tucker.

“It is increasingly frustrating,” said board member Melanie Peterson.

“We’re being put into a box where this is how it is supposed to be. We doing our end of the bargain. They are not doing theirs,” she said. “We need to think about how we fix this.

How do we think outside the box and make this happen, with them or without them. Going along to get along isn’t working. It’s not acceptable.”

“We’re all trying to get across the finish line with a project that everyone agrees would be very beneficial,” said board chairman Federico Fernandez.

“I am a major proponent for holding all parties involved to task,” he said, but added that he encouraged the board members to be patient.

SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks said the Corps of Engineers just received their work plan funding, so they don’t yet know how much money could be available for the EAA reservoir project.

He said funding the reservoir is getting a lot of support from Florida’s elected representatives in Washington D.C. and from Tallahassee.

“The federal funding process is really confusing,” said Lt. Col. Reynolds. “There are two different sets of appropriations that we receive.”

She said the letter SFWMD received in May that stated the funding was not in the president’s budget was because “at that time we did not have the money.”

The work plan, she continued, is additional money that can be appropriated however Congress chooses to give that money. “Between the time that we receive the president’s budget and the time the work plan comes out, the Corps submits work packages that identify additional funding that we could use this fiscal year,” she explained.

She said there is consistently a problem with misunderstandings in Washington D.C. in regard to CERP projects. There is a federal requirement that CERP project receive federal matching funds, she said.

When the project is funded, it is estimated it will take about 8 years to complete with three years for engineering and five years for construction.

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