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$63 million for ‘Glades ‘not enough’

By Staff | Mar 15, 2019

Mayor Kevin Ruane

State and local leaders are grateful – but underwhelmed – with President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget request for Everglades restoration.

Trump’s request, made on March 13, was for nearly $63.3 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for South Florida Everglades Restoration projects and $5.5 million for operations and maintenance.

The funding is well shy of the $200 million requested for Everglades restoration by numerous federal officials as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“For the third year in a row, the administration’s budget request underfunds critical projects in South Florida,” a joint statement from Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott, Congressman Brian Mast and Congressman Francis Rooney issued on March 13 states. “It is incredibly short-sighted to continue to underfund a series of projects that are absolutely necessary to ensure the environmental sustainability and economic vitality of one of the most dynamic regions of our nation. Everglades restoration is critically important to the State of Florida and enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress. Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states. Successive Florida Governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs. Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment.”

Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of The Everglades Foundation, issued a similar statement on March 13.

“We have consistently urged that the federal government meet its commitment to Everglades restoration at a level of at least $200 million for this fiscal year – an amount needed annually to restore America’s Everglades for future generations, reduce polluted water discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and help ensure clean drinking water for over 8 million Floridians,” he said. “This includes construction of the long delayed Everglades reservoir that is designed to store polluted water, clean it, and then send it south.

“Florida cannot continue to suffer through repeated outbreaks of toxic blue-green algae and red tide: the nation’s third-most populous state is undergoing a perennial environmental disaster and an economic catastrophe, and the federal government must fulfill its role in helping solve the problem of Florida’s waterways.

“Nevertheless, the federal budget process is a long and complicated one, and we will continue to work closely with members of Congress from both parties, and especially the Florida Congressional delegation and those serving on the Appropriations Committees, to secure a level of federal funding that will address the long-standing and critical problems of Florida’s waterways.”

The summer of 2018 was a record- breaking one for Florida’s water quality and ecosystem.

One of the longest red tide blooms the state has ever seen ravished marine life with manatees, porpoises, fish and other sea life dying by the thousands

Blue-green algae, or, cyanobacteria, came flowing out of Lake Okeechobee, down the Caloosahatchee River and into canals and estuaries, also depleting aquatic species and vegetation.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, leading member of a coalition of city mayors working on water quality issues, including discharges from Lake Okeechobee, took a similar view to that expressed by other Florida officials.

“We strongly support the $200 million request from Senators Rubio and Scott and Congressmen Rooney and Mast,” he said in a statement on March 13.

Area residents may get a chance to weigh in on water quality issues, if not the budget proposal itself.

The Army Corps of Engineers will be coming to Cape Coral on March 26, the city announced. Mayor Joe Coviello invited the Army Corps to come to the city to discuss water management. The meeting is scheduled to take place at Cape Christian Fellowship at 6:30 p.m.

“This will be an informational meting by the Army Corps,” Coviello said. “We’ve invited other water quality experts to attend as well. They will be discussing what goes into the new release schedule from Lake Okeechobee.”

Coviello said that he has been very pleased with DeSantis’ work thus far, as he has been in contact with the head of the Corps on its new regulation release schedule, as it has been revised from the 2008 version – when it was created.

Currently, in what is now the “dry” season, releases of 1,800 cubic feet per second is coming from the lake to the Caloosahatchee, a positive, said Coviello.

“Our goal is to have lower (lake) levels in the wet season and more in the dry,” he said. “This is the most water we’ve received in the dry season, to my knowledge.”

He reiterated that this will be an informational meeting, as the Corps has already been around the state fielding questions – the focus is on how the new release schedule works.

Coviello has also been pleased with the joint work of officials and municipalities in the region to fight for the community, not the money.

“DeSantis is focusing on coastal communities, rather than agriculture. I’ve been pleased with what he has done thus far,” Coviello said.

The meeting is open to the public.

Cape Christian Fellowship is at 2110 Chiquita Blvd.