A three-hour helicopter tour of the Everglades could prove to be key in helping secure money for restoration projects going forward.
Rep. Francis Rooney took House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on a tour of the Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed on Tuesday. The tour — similar to one the Naples Republican took Rep. Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment on back in March — was meant to highlight the importance of funding projects that have already been approved, and in some cases designed, within the watershed.
“He’s been telling me about this since before he was elected and he invited me before even getting sworn in,” said McCarthy, a California Republican. “This is a natural treasure.”
Rooney has been pushing for President Donald Trump and members of Congress to support Everglades restoration projects since taking office. In February, he sent a letter, signed by the entire Florida delegation, calling on the president to include restoration projects, particularly ones within the Central Everglades Restoration Program, in his fiscal 2018 budget.
McCarthy said the need for improvements were clear during the tour, which flew over the the C-43 storage reservoir, the culvert replacements at the Herbert Hoover Dike, and several other state projects.
“I see what we’re going in Congress right now, when we go to tax reform and when we go to infrastructure, I see the funding already coming now,” said McCarthy. “But I see opportunities that we can speed it up to save the taxpayers money, finish some of these projects earlier. And I see a great opportunity to get the money.”
McCarthy commended the state for its efforts over the year, and said that could bode well for Florida in the future.
“When we look to make investments, we look to those places that have a priority, have an investment from the state,” he said. “So I think the state has done their work. The federal government, I know under Francis’ direction, is already making those commitments.”
State lawmakers this year approved a massive bill (SB 10) that aims to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee. A top priority for Senate President Joe Negron, the bill, among other things, requires the South Florida Water Management District to develop a plan to build 240,000-acre-feet of storage. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $1.5 billion, half of which could be paid for by the federal government.
Gov. Rick Scott has said he would sign the bill. However, lawmakers declined to include $200 million in the budget to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike, a request Scott made late in the Session.
Rooney, a friend of Scott’s, said he was “a little surprised” the governor got involved in the dike issue.
“I was a little surprised the governor got into the dike issue, but I’m glad he tried,” he said when asked if the Legislature’s decision not to include funding could impact a proposal to complete repairs by 2022. “It would’ve been nice to give them a could hundred million to add to the pot to get these projects done faster. But it’s the Corps of Engineers project, and they are going to try to … seek more money to get it completed by 2022 as well.”