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Everglades Spending Needs To Top $7 Billion Over The Next Decade To Stay On Track

A white pelican stands in Snake Bight in Florida Bay.
A white pelican stands in Snake Bight in Florida Bay.

The program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it, as well as Florida, will need to spend close to a billion each year through 2026.

Spending on Everglades restoration will need to increase by a billion dollars to $7.4 billion over the next decade to keep work on track.

That’s according to the latest work schedule now being drafted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and presented Thursday to a joint state and federal committee that helps oversee coordinating projects for the massive restoration effort.

“That's a big number, but we have a lot of really important work to do at a regional landscape scale,” said Eva Velez, an engineer and Corps program manager.

The schedule partly reflects a move by Congress to speed up stalled work by regularly passing water infrastructure bills, beginning in 2014. When architects of Everglades restoration envisioned the 68 original projects, they anticipated Congress approving such bills every two years. But between 2007 and 2014, no such bills passed.

The state also began increasing spending on Everglades work in 2019, after Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to increase anemic spending under former governor, Sen. Rick Scott.

Looking forward at projects approved by Congress, including an Everglades reservoir expected to cost the state $1.4 billion, Velez said the Corps and Florida will need to spend close to a billion each year through 2026.

Some worry the schedule may be overlay optimistic and not anticipate hits to the economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Before we put something out there that has, what I believe to be, somewhat of an unrealistic schedule for over $7 billion over the next 10 years, that just needs to have a hard look,” said Ernie Barnett, who resigned as executive director of the South Florida Water Management District after Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded the resignations of the governing board.

Barnett said federal rules call for the schedule to be reasonable.

But uneven funding is nothing new for restoration work, said James Erskine, Everglades coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We know going forward that we may face budget uncertainties due to COVID-19 and the effect that's had on the national economy,” he said. “But I would like to remind everybody that's been engaged in this program that there's been uncertainties along the entire journey.”
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