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Good News for Everglades Restoration

August 16, 2009

Dear PURRE Members:

We wanted to share this article about good news for Everglades restoration:

Florida, federal government declare truce
in Everglades money war

By Paul Quinlan
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

After eight years of wrangling, the state and federal government have come to terms on how to split the multibillion-dollar cost of restoring the Everglades, clearing the way for the money that President Obama has pledged to the effort.

The consensus, which officials and environmentalists cheered as landmark, takes the form of eight agreements expected to be approved Thursday by the board of the South Florida Water Management District, the agency charged with overseeing Everglades restoration for the state.

"This is a huge moment," said district board member Jerry Montgomery.
"I wish I had a bottle of champagne to crack open right now."

The dispute centered on details of how to account for much of the
$3 billion spent thus far on the $10.9 billion Everglades restoration plan that Congress and the state agreed in 2000 to split 50-50.

To date, Florida has outspent its federal partners 6 to 1, contributing $2.6 billion to Washington's $444 million. Obama, who pledged to jump-start the feds' stalled commitment during his campaign, wants to spend nearly a half billion dollars on the Everglades over the next two years, a record amount.

But differences over terms in the so-called "master agreement" between the district and the agency's federal partner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, threatened to get in the way.

Numerous letters and conference calls led recently to two days of face-to-face talks, during which officials hashed out differences — in particular, over how to value land purchased for restoration.

According to the 2000 restoration plan, the state was expected to buy much of the land necessary to fulfill its half of the bargain. The state had agreed to allow land to be valued at its purchase price in the 50-50 calculus.

But as early as 2004, as land values began to soar and the corps fell behind on construction, state officials began pushing for a change. They wanted the corps to value land at its market value, in accordance with the corps' usual policy, so as to allow the state to take advantage of the rise in land values.

After much negotiation, the corps agreed. But White House budget-writers refused to sign off, blocking $41 million in funding to the Picayune Strand, a $438 million project to turn a failed housing development in rural Collier County back into wetlands.

Water managers, who thought the issue all but resolved, bristled in July when they received a new draft of the agreement filled with unexpected corrections and revisions. Board member and environmentalist Shannon Estenoz blasted the "nameless, faceless" bureaucrats who seemed empowered to stop Obama for getting money to the Everglades.

Today, she praised all involved for settling the bookkeeping dispute. "I had felt like all of us had been stuck in the quicksand for a long time," Estenoz said. "Like I tell my children, just cause I'm screaming at you doesn't mean I don't love you very much."

Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham gushed in a statement that striking the agreement was "like hitting the sweet spot on a tennis racquet and delivering an ace."

"Without a master agreement in place, Everglades restoration would have come to a halt, jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars that are now flowing for job-creating projects," Fordham said.

But it's not yet clear that this agreement will fundamentally alter the bureaucratic infighting and inertia that have bogged down Everglades restoration since the creation of the state-federal restoration plan.

Paul Warner, the district's chief scientist for Everglades restoration, assured board members of the significance today.

"A lot has come together," said Warner. "Stars are starting to align."

think about this...

"We must build a peace in South Florida - a peace between the people and their place, between the natural environment and man-made settlement, between the works of man and the life of mankind itself. "
~ Florida Gov. Reubin Askew ~