Three Florida Republicans are hammering the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a decision that could delay construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project for a year.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Francis Rooney say the Army Corps is wrong to designate the EAA Reservoir as a “new start” project. That decision diverts money that could have been used to begin construction this year, delaying the start until 2021.
The Army Corps says despite the decision, the project remains on track for its target completion date in 2028. Still, the trio of lawmakers remained critical of the decision to push back construction.
“The Army Corps’ bureaucracy has proven an impediment to this vision shared by the President, Congress, and the State of Florida by incorrectly interpreting the law and insisting that the EAA requires a ‘new start’ designation,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
“Through the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, Congress was crystal clear that the EAA reservoir is a part of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and does not require a ‘new start’ designation. The Army Corps is ignoring Congressional intent, which will delay construction of the project by at least a year.”
The “new start” designation means the project will not be eligible for federal funds until Oct. 2021. Congress could take special action to provide those funds earlier, however.
The EAA reservoir will store water discharged from Lake Okeechobee. Stored water will help serve agricultural and urban areas in need.
Water from Lake Okeechobee can also often contain toxic blue-green algae. Without a reservoir to hold that water, it can flow to other water systems, causing the algae to spread.
In April, the Army Corps approved a federal permit to advance construction of the stormwater treatment area (STA) portion of the EAA reservoir. While the overall reservoir is scheduled to be complete in 2028, the STA has a target completion date of 2023.
In October, the Florida Crystals Corporation voluntarily terminated a lease for a portion of the land set to be used for the EAA project.
Mast has complained about the rate of progress on the project in the past. He, Rubio and Rooney say the Army Corps’ latest decision only exacerbates those concerns.
“President [Donald] Trump and the Florida Congressional delegation have strongly and consistently supported Everglades restoration. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and The South Florida Water Management District, under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, have accelerated their work on the vital Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir,” the statement said.
“We will continue to do everything in our power to force the Army Corps to follow Congress’ directive that the EAA Reservoir be completed ASAP. Anything less is an affront to the vision and great work laid out by the Trump Administration to finish projects ahead of schedule and under budget, and to our shared goal of protecting and restoring our state’s most precious natural treasure.”