Shovels Go to Work on Scott's Largest Everglades Project as Crist's Heart Breaks
Around the State
While Charlie Crist was in Tallahassee shedding crocodile tears for the environment, the Scott administration and water managers were busy rolling up their sleeves to break ground -- again -- on a massive Everglades restoration project that had imploded under the former governor.
Public officials, stakeholders and environmentalists gathered Thursday in South Florida to start the largest project in Gov. Rick Scott’s Everglades water-quality plan.
“Today is when project planning becomes construction progress – as we continue improving Everglades water quality,” remarked South Florida Water Management District Chairman Daniel O’Keefe.
"Progress" has been a hard word to come by for the Everglades, which has been mired in a swamp of politicking larger than the park itself. The A-1 project, for instance, is now scheduled to be completed in 2016 – a decade after its original groundbreaking.
On Aug. 2, 2006, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush put the first shovel in the dirt for the A-1 Reservoir, he said, "Florida is keeping its promise to restore the River of Grass and protect this national treasure."
Unfortunately, that promise was broken two short years later. By 2008, Crist had taken over the state. Under his watch, construction of the reservoir ground to a halt. The project was shelved. South Florida taxpayers lost $300 million to construction costs and penalties for breaking the contract with the builder. Massive swaths of productive farmland -- scraped dry of all their rich soil and left idle -- no longer grew corn, rice and sugar. Crist, instead, chose to pursue a controversial billion-dollar land deal that ultimately failed.
Had the shutdown never occurred, the A-1 reservoir would have been able to store 62 billion gallons of water -- the equivalent of more than 5 million residential swimming pools – during a year when record rainfall battered the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries on the east and west coasts.
As water managers were going about their business to move restoration forward, Crist was busy in the capital raising money for his campaign and blaming Scott for his mistakes.
Outside a fundraiser, he told reporters, “On the environment: I wouldn’t be dumping from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie River so we have record deaths of manatees and children can’t go swimming in those reservoirs right now.” The former governor said his “heart is broken” for those who care about the environment.
Meanwhile, Florida’s top environmental chief was praising water managers and Scott’s leadership. “Engineers from the South Florida Water Management District were able to use ingenuity and hard work to design this project -- the largest component of Governor Scott’s Everglades Water Quality Restoration Plan,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “I want to thank Governor Scott for his support as well as the dedicated staff at DEP and the Water Management District for moving forward with projects that will improve water quality for the Everglades.”
The original framework of the A-1 reservoir will be used to create the downsized, shallow-storage basin. The cost to taxpayers has also been dramatically reduced to $60 million.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.