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Lake Okeechobee Project Will Clean Up Stormwater

Thu October 27, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

The South Florida Water Management District is preparing to let millions of dollars in contracts in an effort to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee.

Preliminary site work has already started on the $200 million dollar project on 10,000-some acres north of the lake, which will result in expanded reservoirs and new marshes.

District Spokesman Randy Smith said the project will create new areas in which storm water will flow though vegetation, resulting in substantially lower phosphorus levels in the Southeast’s largest freshwater lake — as much as 83 tons (75 t) each year.

The plan will “fast track” construction projects over the next four years. Crews will construct the 4,000-acre Taylor Creek reservoir ahead of schedule and build an additional 3,500 acres of stormwater treatment area to capture and clean water flowing into the lake.

The majority of the work will focus on earth moving, said Construction Division Director Tim Carter.

However, some areas requiring the construction of gated structures and pump stations, will call for the use of concrete.

As there is not a significant levee and canal system on this side of the lake, Carter said less blasting that would normally be seen in this type of project will be required.

“What tends to make this project unique is that it’s out in the middle of nowhere somewhat,” Carter said.

He said crews will experience foggy and smoky conditions and the logistics of getting equipment to the site will be more difficult than working in town.

Unlike the south side of Lake Okeechobee, where crews would have to deal with swampy conditions, the north side of the lake is predominantly orange groves and cattle fields.

Carter said they have not estimated the amount of material that will be moved for this project, but said most will be kept on-site to build levees.

Proper planning will be of the most importance when dealing with the concrete portions of the job, as the crews will need to spring into action as soon as the material arrives on site.

While the contracts will be awarded through a competitive bid process, Carter said contractors need to be pre-qualified, a process that is currently underway.

He expects to start awarding contracts early next year.

Smith said the new filtration system should be completely operational by 2009.

Work continues on all other sides of the lake to upgrade water runoff systems in eight projects totaling $1.5 billion.

The northside project is being completely funded by the state. Gov. Jeb Bush will ask the Florida Legislature for a $25 million installment next year, building on the initial $30 million sum.

During the 2004 hurricane season, Lake Okeechobee rose more than five feet in less than three months. The high winds and heavy rainfall contributed to murky waters, poor water quality and a decline in health of the lake. CEG

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