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Shovels Ready to Break Down the "Asphalt Dam" and Restore Everglades Water

September 30, 2009

MIAMI, Fla. - It's been 20 years in the making, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is awarding an $81 million contract this week to a south Florida firm to break open what some call the "asphalt dam" across the Everglades - a portion of the Tamiami Trail. The project would replace some of the highway that has blocked waterflow in the River of Grass for 80 years, with a one-mile bridge the Corps is predicting will increase waterflow by 90 percent in the area.

According to Secretary Michael Sole, who heads the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the project will help revive native habitat for more than 60 threatened and endangered species.

"It's one of those critical projects which will allow water to flow more naturally into Everglades National Park. It's kind-of like a cork at the end of the funnel - and unless we release that cork, we're not going to get the water to where we need it."

Sara Fain, manager of the National Parks Conservation Association's Everglades Restoration Program, says Everglades National Park has been dying because of lack of water caused by the Tamiami Trail blockage. Such dry conditions have harmed the ecosystem by increasing wildfires, invasive plants and algae blooms, she explains.

"It's functioned as this unnatural dam that doesn't allow the water that Everglades National Park needs. In the Everglades, water is life - without water the Everglades ecosystem can't function - and this has just wreaked havoc on the ecosystem."

Fain calls the bridge a first step; plans for another 10 miles of bridges are on the drawing board for the U.S. National Park Service. She says they're also needed to unblock some of the deepest waters in the Everglades and to fully restore the River of Grass.

Sole agrees, protecting the Everglades should be a priority.

"So many people in Florida rely on these resources to make a living. So, we need to protect it, and we need to find sustainable ways to ensure their longevity."

The Miccosukee tribe had filed lawsuits to try to block the project, claiming that cleaning out existing culverts would provide faster relief. But Sole says the new bridge is a better method to help restore the ecosystem he says is critical to the south Florida economy. Construction could begin within a month, he says.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL