The Everglades got a little present to celebrate Earth Day.
On Friday, state and federal officials kicked off work to remove part of the Tamiami Trail that has dammed water going into the park for nearly nine decades and build a second, long-awaited span. At 2.6 miles, the $144 million bridge will be more than twice the length of the first bridge completed in 2013. Another three miles of bridging are also planned.
“This new bridge is part of the largest conservation effort ever undertaken by the National Park Service and will return water flows to more historic levels,” said Interior Secretary Jewell, who made her Friday Everglades stop the first in a summer-long tour of national parks to mark the service’s centennial.
Jewell was joined by South Florida U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Carlos Curbelo and Patrick Murphy; Florida Department of Transportation District Secretary Gus Pego; Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy; and National Park Service Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell. The cost of the bridge will be split between the state and the park service, and construction is expected to take four years.
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Bridging the Trail is a key piece in fixing the Everglades, which is in the midst of a $16 billion restoration effort started in 2000, and will help deliver fresh water to ailing Florida Bay.
Over the last year, getting water to the bay has become even more urgent after a summer drought killed more than 25,000 acres of seagrass. Scientists now worry a lethal algae bloom could follow. Over the winter, Corps engineers began testing water flow under the first bridge to determine how best to move water, which must be delivered to the right place at the right time to mimic historic flows that moved in sweeping sheets from Lake Okeechobee across marshes before spilling into the bay.
$144 millionThe cost of the 2.6-mile long bridge expected to take four years to build.
Engineers had planned to test water flows over the next two years, but an unusually wet dry season fed by an El Niño system produced record rain, raising water levels in Lake Okeechobee to dangerous levels that threatened the aging dike. The levels forced the Corps to begin flushing water into nearby estuaries, a move that triggered outcry from both coasts.
Water conservation areas to the south also flooded, prompting the state to ask for a diversion from the scheduled tests and begin pumping massive amounts of water under the bridge and through a series of culverts. As of Friday, about 52 billion gallons had flowed into the park, according to updates provided by the Department of Environmental Protection.
“Sending water south is the only way we can hope to restore Everglades National Park and solve Florida’s water crisis,” John Adornato, a senior director with the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement.
Each bridge...brings us one step closer to true restoration.
Audubon Florida’s Julie Hill Gabriel
Environmentalists, who are frequently at odds with state and federal water managers, celebrated the bridge as a major move forward.
“Each bridge,” said Audubon Florida’s Julie Hill Gabriel, “brings us one step closer to true restoration.”
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich