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Corps Lashes Out After Work Called ’Shoddy’

Fri September 28, 2007 - Southeast Edition

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed Sept. 13 to take back responsibility for a reservoir after Florida officials accused the agency of shoddy work that could threaten an interstate and nearby communities if levee walls failed.

However, the corps disagreed with the state’s assessment that the reservoir poses a danger to Interstate 95 or nearby residents. The Ten Mile Creek Reservoir is part of a multibillion dollar project that’s intended to help restore natural flow to the Everglades.

“We take very seriously our responsibility to deliver to the public a well-constructed project,” Col. Paul Grosskruger, commander of the corps’ Jacksonville district, wrote in a statement to the board of the South Florida Water Management District.

“At no time has the Ten Mile Creek reservoir posed a threat to lives or private property. Further, there will be no time in the future ... when the Ten Mile Creek reservoir will pose a threat.”

It remained unclear who would pay the $13 million for repairs that water district engineers say are needed to fix leakage in levee walls and embankments, which are partially crumbling, among other problems.

The project was authorized by Congress in 1996 in a deal that called for the state and federal government to share the cost, which was initially $27 million. It eventually climbed to approximately $35 million. With the needed repairs, the total project will now cost about $48 million.

District officials argued that since the project was the corps’ responsibility, the state shouldn’t have to share in the cost for repairs.

But Grosskruger noted the district was partly responsible since he said its employees were involved throughout the project. District leaders, however, said they were mostly left out of design decisions.

“It was the corps’ responsibility,” said George Horne, district deputy executive director. “They built it for us, but they were the engineers who designed it.”

While the corps hired an outside contractor to do the work, the water district maintains the federal agency is ultimately responsible.

On Sept. 12, district engineers accused the corps of shoddy work on the reservoir near Fort Pierce. They said if it were filled to capacity, it could rupture and flood Interstate 95 and surrounding communities.

The district has only been able to fill the reservoir with approximately 684 million gal. — only 38 percent of the intended 1.8 billion gal. capacity — because of safety concerns.

The reservoir, approximately 130 mi. (207 km) north of Miami, is supposed to store storm water runoff to keep deluges from flowing into the Indian River Lagoon, part of the overall Everglades ecosystem and one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in North America.

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