Everglades protection agreement inked

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-Finally. An agreement to save the Everglades.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was supposed to be an $11 billion dollar partnership between federal and state governments for protecting resources throughout South Florida. But for the past nine years, the work has been very slow. Blame the inability of the Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District to agree on the details of their joint effort.

Thursday, though, the stalemate ended. At the monthly meeting of the Water District's governing board, the feds and District signed a deal for sharing duties and costs of 68 restoration projects.

"It's a great day," proclaimed Assistant Army secretary Terrence "Rock" Salt, who represented the Obama administration at the signing. "Now we've got the agreements that allow the Corps to actually construct the projects," said Salt.

Work had started on some projects. But South Florida and state taxpayers have so far shouldered more than 80 percent of the bill.

"If this agreement wasn't signed," explained Ken Ammon of the Water District, "the state would have to go it alone."

One of the biggest projects in our area is a reservoir and water treatment marshes planned for 12,000 acres near Indiantown. They're designed to clean water heading into the St. Lucie River in Stuart, reducing the chance of another outbreak of blue-green algae like the one experienced in 2005. Now that the agreement has been signed, groundbreaking for the reservoir and marshes could take place next year.

Ammon says the agreement will allow for completion of more restoration projects, more quickly.

"Everglades restoration hasn't gone very far for quite a while," lamented environmentalist Cynthia Plockelman. "It's long overdue. It's certainly generating a huge sense of relief."