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U.S. issues final rules on Everglades project

Federal officials on Tuesday released the final blueprint for replumbing the Everglades, saying they had beefed up earlier versions that drew fire from environmentalists.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, lead federal agency for the $8-billion project, called the long-awaited "programmatic regulations" a big step toward protecting the Everglades and resolving many of the criticisms surrounding the restoration project.

Environmental groups, while still reviewing the 110-page document, saw things otherwise.

"We've actually backslid," said Brad Sewell, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council.

Sewell and other critics charge that the rules still lack teeth and clear goals and fail to ensure the most basic component of restoration: that the River of Grass _ not development on its borders _ will get the water it needs.

Instead, before any component of the restoration is built _ removing a dike or restoring wetlands _ the various agencies will negotiate how much of the water from that piece of the work will go to cities, new development, farms, or restoring the natural water flow into the Everglades.

Top managers from the corps, other federal agencies and the state disputed the critics.

"I think they've adopted an overly paranoid view," said Don Jodrey, an attorney for the U.S. Interior Department.

The new rules, he said, closed many of the loopholes environmental groups had complained about: adding independent scientific oversight and expanding the role of his agency, which oversees Everglades National Park in the Everglades.

The programmatic regulationswill become law 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register this week.