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Everglades Restoration Project: Bogged Down in Bureaucracy?

October 13, 2008

Miami, FL - Politics appear to be hindering progress in the Everglades restoration effort. According to a National Research Council report released this week, the system is bogged down in planning and process, and the project remains critically short of funding.

Congress passed the "Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan" in 2000, but the report says no projects have been completed, while costs continue to climb and development is making restoration more complicated. Sara Fain is manager of the Everglades Restoration Project.

"It's a turning point. If we don't figure out how to get some of these projects constructed, how to get the funding, and how to fix the process, we're going to be in bad shape."

Fain says one problem is that Congress hasn't funded any of the projects, although they've been mandated by the Restoration Plan.

"Every day, the Everglades get worse. If we wait any longer, we cannot save this ecosystem. The time to make sure that we are committed to this is now. It's an unfortunate time in our economy, but we can make sure we save the Everglades and do it in a way that is responsible to American taxpayers."

Fain says the Everglades is already down to one-half its original size, but is still one of the unique ecosystems in the world. It is home to a diverse number of species, some of them now endangered. Fain says it's more than a matter of animal survival.

"It's critical to the survival of the residents of South Florida. It is our water supply and, if it dries up, six million people can't live in South Florida."

In the absence of federal money, she says, the state has funded all Everglades restoration efforts to date, and there's new hope in Governor Charlie Crist's plan to spend $2 billion to buy 187,000 acres of land now owned by U.S. Sugar.

"We've lost so much of the land that used to serve as natural storage. So now, with the opportunity of using this huge tract of land for water storage and cleaning, we have a real opportunity to better restore the Everglades."

The groundbreaking Restoration Plan was designed to repair decades of decline and to restore the natural flow of water. Its critics say, in this economy, Everglades restoration is simply not a priority.

Gina Presson/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - FL