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TCPALM.COM: Florida lawmakers pushing for Everglades restoration project

By Bart Sullivan. WASHINGTON — A bill authorizing a $1.9 billion restoration of the central Everglades, held up last year pending a report on the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was introduced Thursday by U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

Congress had adjourned before the corps’ chief of engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, signed the report Dec. 23. Murphy’s bill, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of members of Congress including Bill Posey, R-Titusville, does not have to await passage of another Water Resources Development Authorization bill two years from now, according the Murphy’s Erin Moffet Hale.

A companion measure was introduced in the Senate by Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

Environmentalists applauded the measure and said it moves the state closer to eventual Everglades restoration.

“It’s great news,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. “The beauty of Everglades restoration is that it is in fact bipartisan. With all the perceptions and realities of gridlock in Washington, the Everglades continues to unite both sides of the aisle.”

Eikenberg explained that the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) will send Lake Okeechobee water through the massive canals south of the lake and into man-made wetlands where the existing sea grasses will cleanse it of agricultural chemicals like phosphorus before it flows into the Everglades National Park which, he said, “is ironically desperate for water.”

It also assures water for a growing South Florida population, he said.

“It sets us on a course to actually look forward to the day when we can say we’ve restored the Everglades because that’s happening. It’s coming soon,” he said.

Murphy sought to get a similar measure into the WRDA bill signed into law last June but was informed the corps report, which took three years to complete, had to be signed off on by Bostick first. The CEPP still will undergo reviews by the Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the Office of Management and Budget.

“With the Corps finalizing their chief’s report for the CEPP, it is now time for Congress to do what we all know needs to happen — sending clean water south,” Murphy said in a prepared statement Thursday. “I am proud that our delegation stands united in both chambers and both parties in pushing Congress to get this done, understanding how critical this project is to not only the Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches I am proud to represent, but the entire system across the state of Florida.”

Republican Rubio said in a statement that “no single effort is more important to the future of the Everglades than” the CEPP. Nelson, a Democrat, said “we can’t waste any more time” restoring “the heart of Florida’s environment.”

The project will reduce but not end discharges into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon but would clean and divert up to 65 billion gallons of water a year and send it into the Everglades. Eikenberg noted that projects underway to raise the Tamiami Trail linking Naples to Miami with bridges — which is not part of the CEPP — will help restore the natural sheet flow into the national park.

The South Florida Water Management District agreed to fund half the project last April. The federal share of the project that would be authorized in Thursday’s bill, is $950,875,000.

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News, Patrick Murphy