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Memo Raises Concerns About Problems in Everglades Project

Wed April 13, 2005 - Southeast Edition
CEG



MIAMI (AP) The five-year-old, $8.4 billion project to restore the Everglades is saddled with construction delays, a soaring budget and growing skepticism from Congress, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers internal memo said.

Gary Hardesty, the top Everglades manager for the Corps in Washington, expressed concerns about the project in a March 7 internal memo leaked to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Hardesty warned of questions about lagging science studies, a projected budget that has grown by almost $1 billion for the first handful of projects alone and a perception in Congress that the original vision of restoring the Everglades “is dead.”

“We haven’t built a single project during the first five years,” Hardesty wrote. “We’ve missed almost every milestone.”

The 30-year, $8.4 billion federal-state Everglades restoration program is intended to restore some of the natural water flow through the sensitive ecosystem that once stretched uninterrupted from a chain of lakes near Orlando to Florida Bay.

Hardesty wrote congressional staffers remain skeptical about Florida plans, which they see as pushing key projects to supply booming cities with water while leaving the corps to fix the ecosystem later on.

Corps spokesman Dave Hewitt said the memo wasn’t intended as a policy statement, but only as an internal “caution” to a team preparing a five-year report to Congress. It will be the first comprehensive report lawmakers will see on the Everglades project.

The state of Florida expressed disappointment with the memo’s assessment.

“Quite frankly, there are several things in there that aren’t really an accurate picture of where the overall restoration is,” said Ernie Barnett, director of ecosystem projects for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The state said last fall that it was taking over eight stalled construction projects originally on the federal ledger, a $1.5 billion shift of the costs to the state, and also expanding a series of marshes to reduce farm pollution.

Environmental groups have continuously raised concerns about the project.

April Gromnicki, Everglades policy coordinator for Audubon of Florida, said the memo was an honest assessment of problems with the project, and the political climate surrounding it.