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Kissimmee restoration passes Senate

The U.S. Senate gave final approval Thursday to a plan to restore the Kissimmee River to its natural course into Lake Okeechobee.

"Restoration of the Kissimmee is the world's premiere river restoration effort," U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a longtime supporter of the plan, said in a statement from his Washington office.

The restoration legislation, contained in the Water Resources Development Act, was approved by the Senate on a voice vote late Thursday. The act now goes to President Bush, who is expected to sign it.

The project was expected to cost up to $426.8-million, with the federal government providing up to $139.9-million and the state the remainder, said Graham's spokesman Ken Klein.

The legislation, long sought by environmentalists, paves the way for the multiyear project to rechannel 29 miles of the more than 50-mile river.

The project would restore some 26,000 acres of wetlands andmore than 50 square miles of ecosystem, which provides habitat for over 300 species of birds and animals, including three endangered species, Klein said.

The river was transformed into a straight canal in the 1960s and '70s for flood control.

The goal to restore the river to a more natural flow was part of the "Save Our Everglades" plan launched by then-Gov. Graham in 1983.

Bush endorsed the project on a campaign swing through Florida shortly before the state's presidential primary in March.

"The Kissimmee restoration has widespread bipartisan support including President Bush, three Florida governors, and the (Florida) congressional delegation," Graham said.

Some property owners in the area complained that converting the river to a meandering flow would flood their lands.

Proponents said the final version of the federal legislation was fair to affected property owners and that displacement would be minimal.