Gov. Rick Scott announced today that he will dedicate $90 million over the next three years to draw down federal matching funds to build a 2.5 mile bridge along the Tamiami Trail in Miami to reduce water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
Scientists have identified the need to reduce water flows from the lake as crucial to repairing the damaged ecosystem that 7 million Floridians depend on for water. The existing bridge on the Tamiami Trail blocks water flow from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades and the money would go into the Department of Transportation to build a new bridge.
The project would deconstruct a section of the berm that Tamiami Trail road is currently built on, and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road could flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park, the governor's office said. The end effect would be to keep more high nutrient water from entering the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.
“This $90 million investment will be a huge step forward in our efforts to restore water quality throughout South Florida,'' Scott said in a statement. "Every drop of water that we can send South and keep out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is a win for Florida families. My message to families being impacted is that we will not give up on you. We are putting forward strategies each and every day to address the water quality issues that are impacting families in our state.”
The money would have to be included in the budget by the Legislature and matched by the federal Department of Interior to be completed.
The Everglades Foundation is thrilled about the governor's announcement. It's CEO, Eric Eikenberg, said in a statement that Scott "stands out as an environmental leader" with this announcement and the $880 million Water Quality Plan which they said are "two of the most difficult and contentious issues in the protection and restoration of America’s Everglades."
The foundation made no mention of the budget cuts approved by the governor and Legislature that reduced staff at water management districts which monitors and regulates water quality in Florida.
The foundation's web site includes a link to a commentary from former Gov. Bob Graham and environmentalist Nathaniel Reed, which says the budget cuts approved by the governor and Legislature "are compromising the ability of the DEP and the water management districts to protect our state’s natural resources. Our state has lost decades of knowledge and expertise from significant layoffs, resulting in less capable agencies with insufficient resources and demoralized personnel."
Sen. Lisbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said in a statement that the bridge project "is just one of the many significant steps to come in providing relief to the many communities affected by Lake Okeechobee’s water releases. The Caloosahatchee River fosters a number of natural resources that are vital to our economy and our way of life, and it is encouraging to see Southwest Florida receiving the attention it deserves so early in the process.”