The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has delayed a critical step in the $1.9 billion plan to restore the central Everglades, a decision environmentalists say all but kills the project for years.
“This delay means Congress will be unable to act on (the plan) for years,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a statement. “Once again, the Corps is bogged down in its own bureaucracy, stumbling past important deadlines, showing an unwillingness to be creative, and determined to follow a trail of red tape that leads to public frustration.”
An internal review board had needed to approve the Central Everglades Restoration Plan, known as CEPP, in time to get it into a federal appropriations bill this year.
The plan is an attempt to bundle connected projects in the massive Everglades restoration effort, which has been mired in delays and reviews since President Bill Clinton approved an initial $1.4 billion for restoration in 2000. Supporters hoped that CEPP, with its focus on the critical core of the 18,000-square-mile ecosystem that spans 16 counties from Orlando to Florida Bay, could clean polluted water and then move it south to the parched southern Everglades. Much of that water is now flushed east and west, fouling rivers and estuaries.
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But instead — and to the surprise of environmentalists who helped win support for the plan from the South Florida Water Management District earlier this month — the Corps’ internal review board balked.
“This challenging feat has required us all to step outside of our comfort zones,” Col. Alan Dodd, the Corps’ Jacksonville district commander, said in a statement. “The one thing that cannot be rushed on the final report for this complex project is ensuring that it meets the Corps’ required quality standard.”
Federal projects in the Everglades are paid for through the 1974 Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA), which was intended to funnel money every two years into efforts around the country. The first restoration projects for the Everglades were authorized under the act in 2000. But in recent years, the two-year cycle has broken down and appropriations can now drag on for years. The last time Congress approved any money under WRDA was in 2007.
Dawn Sherriffs, a senior policy adviser for the Everglades Foundation, attended the Corps’ review session Tuesday.
“I sat there all day and listened to Wes Coleman, who heads up the [Corps] review team, just repeat over and over that they had not completed their review in time and whenever asked if there was a policy reason why the plan could not be advanced, they did not identify one at all,” she said. “It is inconceivable that they felt no sense of urgency.”
The Corps has scheduled a press briefing at 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss its decision.