JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2011) – Federal and state leaders will be among the speakers at the groundbreaking celebration for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project on Friday, Feb. 18. The event begins at 10 a.m. at the project site in Collier County. It is open to the public, with more than 100 people expected to attend.
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; U.S. Rep. David Rivera; Terrence C. “Rock” Salt, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works; and Eric Buermann, chair of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), are expected to be among approximately eight speakers. The event will also feature an optional bus tour of the project site following the ceremony.
The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is a collaborative effort of local, state and federal governments, and will restore an area that is considered an ecological jewel of southwest Florida.
The 55,000-acre project site was once slated to be a housing development. In the 1960s and early 1970s, 279 miles of roads and 48 miles of canals were built. The housing development failed. But these roads and four large canals have over-drained the area, resulting in the reduction of aquifer recharge, greatly increased freshwater point source discharges to the receiving estuaries to the south, invasion by upland vegetation, loss of ecological connectivity and associated habitat, and increased frequency of forest fires. In 1974, Collier County commissioned the first study to determine how to reverse the impacts of the failed housing development. In 1985, the state of Florida began purchasing the lots to allow for the area’s restoration. Congress authorized the Picayune Strand Restoration Project in 2007 as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The South Florida Water Management District expedited construction by filling in and plugging seven miles of the Prairie Canal and completing approximately 25 percent of the road removal.
In January 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District broke ground on the first of three federal construction contracts. The initial $53 million Merritt Canal Pump Station Project will build a pump station, remove 95 miles of roads and install 55 plugs in the Merritt Canal. This project is well under way today.
On Feb. 18, the Corps of Engineers, SFWMD and other partners will break ground on the second major federal construction contract. The $79 million Faka Union Canal Pump Station Project will build a pump station, remove more roadway, and continue the canal plugging. The third federal construction contract will be awarded for the Miller Canal Pump Station in the future. When completed, the project will feature three major pump stations, removal of 260 miles of roads and filling in of 42 miles of canals.
"With the start of construction on the Faka Union Canal Pump Station, our federal partners at the Corps are further building on the significant restoration progress that has already been made at the Picayune Strand," said SFWMD Governing Board Chair Eric Buermann. "This project provides an excellent example of the benefits that can be realized for south Florida's ecosystem through the cooperative efforts of the District, the state of Florida and the Corps."
“This project marks a major milestone in Everglades restoration,” said Col. Al Pantano, commander of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “The Picayune Strand Restoration Project is the first Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan project under construction and Faka Union is the largest of the three federal construction contracts,” added Pantano, who is also speaking at the event.
When complete, the Picayune Strand Restoration Project will restore natural water flows over an 85-square-mile area. The project will improve the area’s hydrology, allow for the return of more balanced plant communities, increase aquifer recharge, and send fresh water in a more natural manner to the coastal estuaries.
The project is also critical to the survival of the endangered Florida panther. There are an estimated 100 to 160 adults left in the wild, with the only breeding population living in southwest Florida. The project will restore valuable panther habitat. It will also connect many public parks, refuges and preserves, to allow an uninterrupted wilderness corridor for the panther – essential as the panther requires a large territory.