The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday belatedly approved a $1.9 billion suite of restoration projects targeting the central Everglades after enduring weeks of criticism from both environmentalists and lawmakers.
The revised plans, originally conceived as a way to speed up Everglades restoration, now go back to the South Florida Water Management District for review.
Last month, the Corps’ Civil Works Review Board surprised state officials and environmentalists when it balked at signing the plan, upsetting a tight schedule needed to get the six projects in a national waterworks bill that Congress approved this week and forwarded to the White House. In the days leading up to the review, lawmakers including Gov. Rick Scott, water managers and environmentalists argued that missing the deadline in a chronically gridlocked Congress could indefinitely jeopardize the work. Congress last approved a water resources bill in 2007.
After the Senate voted Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote Assistant Army Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, pointedly blaming the Corps for derailing the project.
“Because of your agency’s inability to approve the Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP) in a timely manner, the project did not receive Congressional authorization,” Rubio wrote before urging the Corps to approve the plan Friday.
At the Friday meeting, Corps officials asked for parts of the plan to be clarified, Corps spokeswoman Jenn Miller said in an email. Specifically, she said, the Corps wants to ensure that work contained in the larger Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and designed to clean pollution from water is completed before the Central Everglades work, which will move water to the parched southern Everglades and Florida Bay.
“It’s a positive step forward, but at the same time there’s a new layer of frustration with the additional time that has now been tacked on,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon Florida’s director of Everglades policy. “The bottom line is still that this project is supposed to be an example of how to do things faster.”