Politics

Lake Okeechobee Dike Quick-Permitted for Repair and Rehabilitation

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: May 6, 2014 3:55 AM
Herbert Hoover Dike

Herbert Hoover Dike

Repairs to the dangerously leaky Herbert Hoover Dike -- the 140-mile-long earthen barrier that holds back the waters of Lake Okeechobee -- are finally good to go, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced.

On Friday, the DEP issued a consolidated environmental resource permit, or ERP, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It allows the Corps  to install new culverts and replace decades-old devices to increase the dike's structural integrity.

The permit is specific to a repair and rehabilitation project, authorizing construction and replacement of Culverts 2, 12A and HP-2 with new water control structures S-278 (C-2), S-274 (C-12A) and S-287 (C-HP-2).

In an effort to streamline the regulatory process for the rehabilitation and repair project, the department developed a comprehensive approach that will reduce the time necessary to process future culvert replacement work associated with the dike.

The department estimates this proactive comprehensive approach will save more than 1,000 work hours, more than $40,000 in tax dollars and will result in a significant reduction in time needed for future permit authorizations.

"The residents of South Florida are dependent upon a stable dike around Lake Okeechobee," said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. "DEP was able to streamline its permitting process for critical dike rehabilitation projects to alleviate flooding and environmental concerns for residents in the communities impacted by Lake Okeechobee."

Insurer Lloyds of London, in its risk evaluation, put the importance of repairs in perspective. It summarized the condition of the more-than-80-year-old dike after Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

"The dike is vulnerable to failure caused by water seepage and piping at high water levels, whether this high water level is produced by long-term changes in rainfall or by hurricane events."

The report also said, "Work on the first three sections is expected to last for five years, and until this repair work is completed, the risk levels associated with the Herbert Hoover Dike are elevated. ..."

Nine years after Katrina and dike repair work is still incomplete.

The Lloyds evaluation summary concluded, "As well as the total of 40,000 residents whose houses and lives would obviously be in serious danger, there could be far-reaching effects for the whole of southern Florida should the Herbert Hoover Dike fail.

"The three counties to the immediate southeast of Lake Okeechobee," said the report, "have a combined population in excess of 5 million residents. Recovery could take years, with economic losses likely to run to the tens of billions of dollars. This would be in addition to any related wind losses, which are also likely to be measured in billions."

The dike project is intended to reduce the risk of flooding, piping and seepage as a result of higher lake levels. The dike itself is comprised of gravel, rock, limestone, sand and shell and does not currently meet the rigorous standards for dams and levees that exist today, according to the DEP, which limits the flexibility of water managers with regard to lake operations.

Enhancements to the Herbert Hoover Dike are critical to the restoration of the Everglades, and last year, the state urged the Corps of Engineers to expedite work on the dike system.

The culvert repair project is one component of the Corps' work to enhance the stability of the earthen dike around the lake, the DEP said. Replacement of the culverts will strengthen particular areas of the dike, reducing the risk of seepage, piping and levee failure when Lake Okeechobee reaches certain water levels.

The project is located within five counties: Glades, Hendry, Martin, Okeechobee and Palm Beach.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. 


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