Friday, January 19, 2018
Opinion

Politics mustn't bog down Everglades progress

You cannot overestimate the value of Everglades National Park. Unlike other parks that were created for their scenery, Everglades was established to preserve the 1,542,526-acre ecosystem as a wildlife habitat, with surface water as its most important resource and lifeline.

Decades before the park was established in 1947, those trying to protect this unique habitat had to cope with natural forces and fight human degradation and politics. That fight continues, led today by the Everglades Coalition, an alliance of 57 local, state and national conservation and environmental organizations.

More than 300 activists, politicians, and federal and state agency officials attended the coalition's 28th annual conference this month in Coral Gables. The three-day meeting reaffirmed the coalition's mission to restore what is known as the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, the vast area from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into Lake Okeechobee, through Everglades National Park out to Florida Bay and the Keys.

Everglades habitat restoration projects, the largest in the world, have been faring well during the last four years, with several dedications and groundbreakings. On Jan. 11, for example, a ribbon cutting was held at a facility in south Miami-Dade that will pump needed freshwater into Everglades National Park and into a troubled part of Florida Bay.

More good news is that a ribbon cutting will take place next month at a 1-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail. This popular road has blocked water flow for generations.

Progress has been possible because the Obama administration reinvigorated the Everglades' restoration with $1.5 billion. One clear result of this infusion of money is that polluted water is being cleaned up. This newly clean water directly benefits South Florida homes and businesses.

But coalition members fear that congressional partisanship may stall progress.

"We can't let politics stand in the way of Everglades restoration," said Dawn Shirreffs, co-chair of Everglades Restoration and the Everglades program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "There are key issues that Congress is going to have to address in 2013. If we don't, we could really hurt restoration. We need bipartisan effort so that we can break ground on other projects.

"Right now, every project that is authorized is under construction. We understand that money is tight. But at the same time, conditions continue to decline. If we pull back on funding, we increase the cost of restoration. You'd have more delay, construction costs will increase, and you wouldn't be able to take advantage of some of the great progress we've had during the last couple of years."

Many important projects are authorized through spending bills called Water Resources Development Acts. These bills used to be voted on every two years. Not anymore. A divided Congress has not voted on a bill since 2007, slowing restoration momentum and threatening entire projects.

And there are vital economic reasons why Congress needs to pass the 2013 water bill.

In a study for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, Mather Economics, a business consultant specializing in applied economics, found that Everglades restoration projects provide many jobs and numerous economic benefits to Florida and the nation. For every dollar invested in Everglades restoration, four are returned to the economy. If Congress approves future water bills, Mather estimates that more than 400,000 jobs will be created by Everglades restoration over time.

According to the National Park Service, Everglades National Park created more than 2,000 jobs in 2010 and generated more than $140 million in tourist spending.

If Congress fails to pass this year's water bill, Everglades wetlands will continue to be degraded by commercial, residential and agricultural development. Vital water will continue to be drained and channeled, the entire landscape will continue to be altered, and thousands of jobs will be lost.

If nothing else, the politicians in Washington need to remember that Everglades projects provide clean drinking water for more than 7 million Floridians. This fact alone is reason to set politics aside.

Comments
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18