The Army Corps of Engineers dealt a puzzling and troubling blow last month to the federal-state effort to restore the Everglades. The corps' internal review board refused to sign off on a plan long in the making that would move more water into the southern regions of the basin. The corps should address its concerns immediately and work quickly to ensure that this stage of the cleanup doesn't miss the next phase of federal money.
The corps' Civil Works Review Board was widely expected to approve the plan on April 22. But in a surprise decision, the board postponed its approval, saying it needed more time to assess "this challenging feat." The work calls for cleaning polluted water and moving more of it south to help restore the central and southern Everglades and Florida Bay. The plan is central to reducing the amount of polluted water that now is diverted east and west, fouling rivers and estuaries and worsening urban flood control. Adding water flow to the central and southern basin also is key to restoring the natural habitat and wildlife.
The corps failed to lay out any serious concerns, and it looks indifferent to the impact that these further delays will have on this complicated partnership. State and federal officials already have agreed to the outlines of restoring the central basin. And they have acknowledged that while some positive impacts will occur with redirecting water flow, the overall goal of improving both water flow and water quality is a target that the partners should pursue simultaneously.
Environmental advocates worry the corps' foot-dragging could jeopardize the chance of getting the central Everglades plan into the current federal funding cycle. Under the corps' timetable, the approval process could take until August, which could push off the eligibility for funding two years or more. The day after the corps' decision, 12 members of Florida's congressional delegation, including both U.S. senators and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, wrote to the chairmen of the House and Senate public works committees, urging them to keep the projects on the funding list in the current water bill percolating through Congress.
The corps still has a window over the next month to resolve concerns and support the effort in the current round of funding. Failing to do so would be a major setback, not only to the environmental plan but to the cooperative effort between the federal government and the state. By demonstrating the sense of urgency that's called for, the corps would get the restoration plan on the books and inspire Congress to fund the project without further delays.