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Rooney confident for Everglades funding

By Staff | Aug 9, 2017

Southwest Florida got the first wave of Tropical Storm Emily Monday morning, but it was the perfect opportunity for Congressman Francis Rooney to show off a nearly-complete Everglades restoration project at work.

As the storm rained down on the Picayune Strand State Forest in Naples, the pumps at the Merritt Station siphoned the water from canals out into the Picayune Strand Restoration Project wetland, where it will follow the historical and natural gravity flow.

It’s just one piece of many projects underway to restore natural Everglades flows to the south.

Congressmen Rooney, District 19 representative, and Mario Daz-Balart, District 25 representative, held a joint press conference Monday morning at the Merritt Pump Station to discuss the ongoing efforts to garner support in budget appropriations committees for this and other Everglades Restoration projects.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent its wish-list budget request to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which included $190 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects and $200 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike Restoration, Rooney said.

The management and budget office sliced the request by 60 percent, according to a press release from Rooney’s office.

The Army Corps isn’t the only agency getting appropriations for Everglades projects, though.

According to the release, funding appropriated for the 2018 fiscal year includes: $82 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation; $76.5 million for Everglades Restoration; $8 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and $46 million for non-CERP Everglades projects; $10 million for planning and interagency coordination and $153 million for ecosystems programs, including the Everglades, through U.S. Geological Survey.

“Almost every aspect of the government is being cut by the Trump budget,” Rooney said at the conference. “That makes our gains even that more dramatic.”

Rooney believes his outreach efforts in Washington D.C.have helped maintain support while other projects are cut – the proposed budget, which has not gone to a vote yet, would make $10 billion in non-defense, discretionary spending, he said.

In late April Rooney invited House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Florida for a tour of the Everglades. In a meeting with President Donald Trump, he laid out this scenario: had Hurricane Matthew hit just 20 or 30 miles eastward, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach would have most likely been evacuated.

“I try to be as graphic as I can about how serious this is in a tourist based economy,” Rooney said.

Last year, he said he took photos of the water near Sanibel before and after fresh water releases to show the clear green water followed by black water, and took a look at the algae at the Cape Coral Yacht Club too as evidence of the need for funding to restore the Everglades.

“Bringing the majority leader here was why we got the money we got,” he said.

The House appropriations bill has to go before the Senate; the Senate will tweak the budget and it will be reviewed before a vote and go to the president.

“The big first hurdle has taken place, big part of the money is in the House bills,” Congressman Daz-Balart said during the meeting. “We have to negotiate the differences. We’re dealing with less money but asking for huge increases, and we were able to get that in the House bill – I think we have a good shot.”

There is a chance the Senate could end up appropriating even more money toward the Everglades, Rooney said.

“We might have another crack at that apple in 2018 money, might be a possibility of getting more,” he said.

In total from the House bill, as well as appropriations from the departments of Energy & Water and Interior and U.S. Geological Survey, Everglades-related projects have the potential to roll in approximately $375.5 million in federal funding if not reduced in Senate debates.

“Nothing’s enough until it’s finished, but it will keep the work we have going,” Rooney said. “This is a good start.”

Through this money, work on the Herbert Hoover Dike restoration can continue, though the congressman hopes future funding can help speed up the completion. It’s currently slated to be complete in 2028, but he and the Army Corps are working toward a 2022 goal instead.

He hopes money in some of the other project appropriations will go to the planning of the A2 reservoir in South Florida. The land there is currently leased to companies in the sugar industry, Rooney said, but planning now would mean a quicker move toward construction when the lease ends in 2019.

Rooney reiterated the importance of all the Everglades-dedicated organizations, from the state to environmental organizations and other public officials like himself, of sticking to a unified message – that the federal government needs to uphold and catch up to its obligation of funding 50 percent of CERP’s 68 projects and fully funding the dike restoration.

“I think we got as good as we could have in these circumstances,” Rooney said. “We have to continue posing it as the premier infrastructure project.”