The Sierra Club, meanwhile, complained the bridge was inadequate, championing a $1.6 billion, 11-mile “skyway” that was ultimately rejected as too expensive.
In 2008, the National Research Council summed things up in a report calling the project delays “one of the most discouraging stories in Everglades restoration.”
But the gridlock was finally broken just after that scathing report with an obscure amendment slipped into a federal spending measure. It granted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an extraordinary exemption from federal environmental laws, lifting the injunction and finally allowing the bridge to move forward.
A handful of additional restoration projects also have broken ground since, giving advocates and engineers that have devoted decades, even entire careers to the Everglades a sense that all the talk of restoration is at long last becoming reality. For all the concerns, the mood on the bridge was upbeat, elevated by flocks of ibises and pairs of wood storks drifting by.
“We’ve been talking about getting more water to the park for my entire lifetime,’’ said Neal McAliley, chairman of the South Florida National Parks Trust. “Today, we’re doing it.’’
Park Superintendent Dan Kimball said his father, a 93-year old civil engineer and World War II veteran, helped him put the battle over the bridge in perspective when he showed him the plans several years ago to build one and then push for more in the future. His father, Kimball said, called the first bridge a “beachhead” – a critical foothold to wage a wider battle.
“Today,’’ Kimball said, “I’m pleased to report that our ‘beach-head’ is now secured and we’re moving out and on.’’