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McCarthy indicates there’s ‘ample place for infrastructure investment’ in Everglades projects

By Staff | May 9, 2017

After an aerial tour of the Everglades restoration projects with Congressman Francis Rooney, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he could “see the need” for continued federal investment.

McCarthy joined Rooney in Naples Tuesday for an overhead look at several ongoing and upcoming projects that are part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program, including the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage (C-43), the culvert replacements at the Herbert Hoover dike at Lake Okeechobee; A-1 and A-2 basins; and state stormwater treatment areas.

McCarthy had many warm words for Rooney, who was elected in November and ran on a platform driven by water quality and Everglades restoration efforts.

“He could tell me where they were building, why and how,” McCarthy said. “He’s been telling me about this before he got elected.”

McCarthy said Florida’s Ever-glades projects could see support from both President Trump and Congress when Trump presents his infrastructure bill. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to increase infrastructure funding, and when Congress is finished with tax reform, that will be the next topic on the floor.

“There are ample places here for infrastructure investment,” Mc-Carthy said. “I see with infrastructure, the need and the responsibility of the federal government.”

During the fly-over, McCarthy said he was made aware of many of the aging levies that have been compromised and now cause flooding, creating a public safety issue. As a representative for California, he said many of the issues facing the Everglades are similar to his own state’s struggle with its delta system – the unbalanced influx and of saltwater and freshwater and outflow.

“I see an opportunity to speed up the funding, finish projects earlier. I think for the environment it would be helpful,” McCarthy said. “Faster would be safer for the constituents.”

He believes projects should be invested in by the federal government on merit, and that the government often looks at two top points, priority and investment by the state.

“The state has done their work,” he said, referencing some projects where the state funded 50 percent of the costs to get things started with the understanding that the federal funding would match.

Passed in 2000, the CERP – which contains 68 individual projects costing an estimated $16 billion, according to Rooney’s website – is supposed to be a 50/50 cost/share with the federal government, and the state is well ahead of funding its side.

Congress passed the 2016 Water Resources Development Act in September, which authorized the completion of the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project and the A-2 basin, and the removal of some levees and roads that interfere with the flow of water south. The original proposal included funding for the Herbert Hoover dike, but that was declined.

Two other WRDAs were approved in 2007 and 2014 which still have unfinished federal projects, the Kissimmee River Restoration and the Indian River Lagoon projects.

A new bridge over the Everglades via U.S. 41 is also supposed to have 5.5 miles funded by the federal government. Another section, 2.6 miles, is currently under construction and is a 50/50 share.

“We’ve been trying to emphasize that we have flood control, life safety issues and the environmental issues that are predominant in the quality of our water in our tourism-based industry,” Rooney said. “Everyone staying on message is critical for us to get our point across.”

Many projects are years from completion, but McCarthy said Rooney was making a very strong argument for federal funding in Congress.

“I’m here, I’m seeing what we made an investment in,” McCarthy said. “(Residents) should be excited to have an individual like Rooney in Congress. He’s not going to sit back and wait.”

Rooney said Everglades restoration would be a long-term problem with solutions that take time, but that a lot is being worked on right now. In the past, he’s stressed the importance of Florida needing to have a solidified voice about its need for federal funding to provide a unified front. He sited several projects that have gained solid traction, such as expediting the Hoover dike’s repair to be finished by 2022 rather than the originally-projected 2026 or the push for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin design work for the A-2 storage area now, so that when the land’s lease to agricultural companies is up in 2019, the state is ready to start “moving dirt” to build the water storage area south of Lake Okeechobee.

“There are people who throw up their hands and say woe is me. This is a long-term problem,” Rooney said. “We’re working on practical solutions.”