Shovels Go to Work on Scott's Largest Everglades Project as Crist's Heart Breaks

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: January 17, 2014 12:48 PM
Everglades Restoration A-1 FEB - Sunshine State News

The A-1 FEB will use the A-1 reservoirs site. Credit: SFWMD

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.

The 15,000-acre “A-1 Flow Equalization Basin” will help quench the River of Grass’s need for more clean, fresh water by capturing and holding up to 20 billion gallons of water before sending it to filter marshes for treatment, then finally to the Everglades.

“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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

Comments (8)

Mike Conner
8:02PM JAN 23RD 2014
Build all the reservoirs and basins and whatever little projects you like, and at the end of the dust, the discharges to the rivers have been stemmed damn little. Plan 6--the Flowway through the heart of the EAA--is the real fix Nancy. Of course, such action would upset the comfy little status quo enjoyed by business interests and their political pawns.
M. Hill
4:34PM JAN 17TH 2014
For those of us who honestly care about the issue it's infuriating to watch politicians continue to use the everglades to try to further their own self interests. The same goes for some people who say they care about the environment. Rick scott hasn't been perfect, not even close, but he has done something about the everglades. I give him credit for that.
10:09PM JAN 17TH 2014
The reality is Governor Scott, Senator Gaetz, and Representative Weatherford have remove $1 billion of taxing and spending authority from the Water Management Districts, gutted their professional staffs, and installed lackeys as the District heads. So this effort is the proverbial tinkling on the citizens of Florida and telling them it is a spring shower. Maybe a bit harsh but when you remove a billion and replace it with at most $220 million yo cannot realize anywhere near as much being done.
12:10AM JAN 18TH 2014
You forget how much waste and scandal was afoot in SFWMD in Crist's time. Scott's people came in, cleaned house and showed South Florida how much could be accomplished by streamlining a bloated budget. Environmentalists haven't stopped bellyaching since because they want ALL the money and ALL the land and ALL the attention on their priorities, no one else's even in hard times. These people make me sick. I hope you aren't one of them Michael.
9:12AM JAN 18TH 2014
The waste and scandal could have been dealt with at the SWFWMD and as I recall it had to do with Republican appointments. See also, House member designated by Will Weatherford to deal with the water improvement issues Steve Critafulli,"We do not have the money to spend on these kind of projects." Nothing adequate is going to happen.
9:17AM JAN 18TH 2014
And removing more than a third of the professional staff in the SFWMD, I screwed up with the bonus "W", SJWMD, and now the bonus "W," the SWFWMD is nothing less than vindictive actions because the Tea Party development is always good wing of the Republican Party that dominates Florida hates science.
2:27PM JAN 17TH 2014
Oh Nancy Smith, you seem to have atruthiness problem. For kicks and grins I went to the SFWMD and Army Corp of Engineers sites. Imagine my suprise to find the Corp gave final approval at the end of 2013 and the cost of the A-1 Equalization Basin is $59.9 million. Hard to increase costs by more than $300 million in 2006 on a project that costs $59.9 million in 2013. I would really hope you could do better.
10:07AM JAN 18TH 2014
If you go back and read the article again this was due to breaking the contract: South Florida taxpayers lost $300 million to construction costs and penalties for breaking the contract with the builder.

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