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House Delegation Seeks Infrastructure Funds for Everglades Restoration

April 19, 2021 by Dan McCue
The Everglades. Florida. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A dozen members of Florida’s congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, are urging their colleagues to make Everglades restoration a priority as they consider infrastructure projects to fund this year.

In a letter sent to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week, the members asked the panel to provide robust fundings for key restoration projects, citing the Everglades’ importance to the regional economy and ecosystem.

They were led by Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.

The other signatories were Democratic Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Val B. Demings, and Ted Deutch; and Republican Reps. Carlos A. Giménez , Maria Elvira Salazar, Gus M. Bilirakis and Byron Donalds.

In their letter they noted the Everglades provides drinking water to some 8 million Floridians, creates short- and long-term jobs, and plays a key role in climate resiliency by mitigating sea level rise and erosion while providing a habitat for nearly 200 threatened and endangered species.

They then point out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already identified $2.9 billion in key projects that are “integral to the success of a restored and healthy Everglades.”

“Public health and an economy ravaged by pandemic and economic downturn would greatly benefit from this infusion of funding to recover and become more resilient in the face of future crises,” the members say.

“Everglades restoration provides the ideal model for the benefits of investing in these conservation and infrastructure projects as laid out in the Biden- Harris administration’s plan to revitalize and maintain a more reliable American labor economy through long-term and comprehensive land restoration endeavors,” they wrote.

Though there has long been concensus that something needs to be done to save the Everglades from environmental degredation and human encroachment, paying for the work and having plans shift and change over time has proved to be a stumbling block stalling progress.

Between 2007 and 2014, for instance, no federal waterworks spending bills were passed in Congress. The legislation, called Water Resources Developments Acts, are supposed to be enacted every two years to cover the cost of the nation’s sprawling water infrastructure.

The timing was factored into the Everglades comprehensive plan when its authors laid out a 30-year schedule with a $7.8 billion price tag. This year marked the plan’s 20th anniversary without any of its 68 projects fully completed and the cost now expected to reach $16 billion.

To date the state of Florida has invested approximately $4.5 billion in projects such as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed spending $473 million on Everglades restoration in his next budget — despite the fact the federal government has fallen so woefully behind in providing its mandated 50/50 cost share.

In January, cheered by DeSantis’s initiative, 61 environmental groups represented by the Everglades Coalition wrote President Joe Biden asking him to increase federal spending to $2.9 billion over the next four years. That comes to $725 million a year, about equal to estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep restoration efforts on schedule for the next decade.

“The need to invest aggressively now is amplified by the millions we can save by ensuring USACE can move forward with the resources accounted for upfront, preventing costly delays that have contributed to growing expenses,” the members said in last week’s letter. 

“A commitment from this Committee will solidify and build upon past environmental infrastructure successes in Florida, and indicates to the State of Florida that the Committee fully stands behind the restoration project that is of central importance to scores of Floridians.”

As a World Heritage Site and Wetland of International Importance, the Everglades attracts hundreds of thousands of recorded visitors every year from around the world. 

In 2019, Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, and Big Cypress National Preserve, collectively known as the Greater Everglades National Parks, attracted almost 3 million visitors and contributed $238 million to the local economy.

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