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Army Corps needs more time on Joe Negron reservoir

Federal assistance may be on the way for the state’s latest Everglades restoration effort.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will need another month to figure out how to join in Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Col. Jason Kirk, the Florida commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, advised the South Florida Water Management District this week that a review is underway of options for working together on changes to what is known as the Central Everglades Planning Project. The changes were outlined in a measure (SB 10) that Negron pushed through the Legislature this year.

“We are currently working through multiple options for the next steps to address your request,” Kirk wrote.

Supporters of the reservoir, a priority of Negron, R-Stuart, anticipate the federal government covering half the cost of the work.

Part of the bill requires the water management district to request the Army Corps participate — by next Tuesday — in helping to develop a report on revisions needed to increase water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

District Executive Director Pete Antonacci, who is leaving the district Tuesday to head Enterprise Florida, asked the Army Corps in a letter to participate on the report on June 26.

Kirk responded Monday that the Army Corps expects to have a full response by the end of August.

District spokesman Randy Smith said Wednesday the “district is working with the Corps to push the plan along as fast as possible.”

Katie Betta, a Negron spokeswoman, said the president is pleased the Army Corps provided an update as he continues to “closely monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 10.”

The Senate bill allows Florida to bond up to $800 million as a way to speed construction of the reservoir, which is intended to help clean South Florida waterways and potentially reduce the recurrence of toxic algae outbreaks that have impacted Negron’s Treasure Coast district in past years.

Treasure Coast residents blame polluted water releases from Lake Okeechobee for the algae outbreaks.

The proposal seeks to accelerate plans for a reservoir — part of a larger ongoing Everglades project effort called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP — to clean water that can be sent through the Everglades toward Florida Bay.

Under the state proposal, the reservoir, initially using 14,460-acres of state-owned land within the Everglades Agriculture Area, will need to be deeper than originally planned.

Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of Audubon Florida, called Kirk’s letter a positive sign.

“We look forward to the agencies working together to implement Senate Bill 10, reduce discharges to the sensitive coastal estuaries, and send needed freshwater south to the Everglades,” Hill-Gabriel said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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