Nearly half a billion dollars is flowing through the Florida economy like fresh rain on saw grass, with long-overdue federal funds reviving efforts to restore the Everglades.
As St. Petersburg Times reporter Craig Pittman wrote recently, the economic stimulus package passed by Congress last year has renewed the moribund Everglades project, which began as a joint state and federal enterprise a decade ago but foundered after 9/11, when war costs began draining federal tax dollars. The 50-50 cost-sharing deal between state and federal officials vanished.
Credit former Gov. Jeb Bush with putting the state in the position to be able to spring into action when the Obama administration went looking for ways to stimulate the economy. Under Bush's watch, the state kept buying land, drawing up plans and getting its permits in line. Florida was ready to act, with plans to raise part of the Tamiami Trail to let water flows through, and reclaim an uninhabitable, derelict, 55,000-acre subdivision.
The economic stimulus bill was designed for projects that create jobs and do it quickly. In the spirit of the old Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, this fits the bill. It reaches deep into the local economy, providing paychecks for contractors, skilled workers and laborers, engineers, soil experts and more, all buying supplies from local businesses. "Keep it local,'' has been the motto.
Using a formula of the Associated General Contractors, half a billion dollars can be expected to generate over 1,000 construction jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs. But much more remains to be done. The stimulus money isn't going to last, and the fiscal prospects for state and federal officials are fairly bleak. To his credit, Crist recommended Friday that the state earmark another $50 million for Everglades restoration next year.
But it is worth remembering that this was envisioned as a 30- to 40-year effort to heal 300 miles of damaged swamps, estuaries and marshes. The Obama administration and Congress can help by freeing up local officials to act without having to go through a thicket of federal red tape. With that should come state and local commitments to protect what is there from drainage, pollution and development.
Floridians have an obligation to future generations to restore and protect this unique wilderness. It is heartening to see this renewed commitment.