WASHINGTON - State and federal officials and environmentalists pressed Congress yesterday to grant approval of the first major projects in a $8.4 billion re-plumbing of the Florida Everglades, saying the land needed to be acquired before prices skyrocket under pressures of development.
Congress authorized a blueprint for the entire restoration plan four years ago, but approval is still needed for specific projects contained in the plan. A coalition of leaders from the state, the National Audubon Society and the Army Corps of Engineers made their case to the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Development in the waning days of the session.
"We are hoping for the Hail-Mary pass, because obviously we're late in the session," remarked Rep. Mark Foley, a West Palm Beach Republican, who added his pitch to the subcommittee.
Members of the House panel expressed their continuing support and hopes for passing a final bill this year, though they asked some pointed questions about rising costs and how necessary the projects are to the Everglades.
The estimated cost of the Indian River Lagoon project, which would build giant reservoirs to control harmful discharges in a coastal estuary, has risen $936 million to $1.2 billion.
It would also remove harmful muck that has flowed into the estuary, stifling the ecosystem of plants, fish and birds by blocking their exposure to sunlight.
The project is in Martin County, bounded by Lake Okeechobee and the ocean.
Costs of a second project in Collier County, in the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp, have grown from an estimated $137 million to $363 million. That project would remove roads and build pump stations to re-establish natural water flow.
Proponents testified that the projects are interconnected with other aspects of Everglades restoration and that costs have grown mostly because they involve acquiring land that keeps rising in value.
"We have benefited from living in an area flush with the wonders of the Everglades ecosystem, and we have recognized our solemn duty to preserve this marvelous asset for future generations," Doug Smith, the chairman of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, told the subcommittee.
"Now we ask you to do the same."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.