JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (April 6, 2022) -U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District employee, "The legendary Kim Taplin," retired after 26 years of selfless service to our Nation. She was there during the earliest days of Everglades restoration and the "Restudy." She led the team that provided proof positive that the Corps planning process could overhauled and successfully be compressed into three years -- even a complex high-visibility project like the Central Everglades Planning Project. She has made history and leaves a lasting legacy as a key player in Everglades Restoration.
Kim Taplin was born to do Everglades restoration. It's in her blood. "My family took us out to the Everglades since I was two. It was our place to go as a family on weekends, to do family outings." Growing up, and still to this day, her family spent many of their weekends out at their chickee in Big Cypress National Preserve.
Both of her parents were scientists. Her "mum" was a biochemist with a great love of the Everglades, and her dad was an epidemiologist whose first research grant, from the Department of the Army, was to conduct studies out in the Everglades. "The Army groomed me young!" said Taplin.
Like many of us, Taplin started out wanting to be a marine biologist, like Jacques Cousteau. She got her undergraduate degree in Ocean Engineering, specializing in Coastal Processes, and was recruited by a college friend to start working with the Corps as a study manager in the Coastal Planning Section for her first two years.
All that changed when the Corps got the authorization to do the Everglades "Restudy" and were forming a team. "I raised my hand," said Taplin. "It was about the Everglades, and growing up in Miami, and loving my beloved Everglades, and I wanted to be a part of it. I applied for a planner position for the dedicated team they were forming to do the Restudy, and got selected by Stu Appelbaum, who was leading the team. He changed my life!"
“From the C&SF Project Restudy, to the Indian River Lagoon project, to the Central Everglades Planning Project, Kim has been an integral part of the Everglades restoration effort since its very beginning. She has been a tireless leader in fostering collaboration with partners, stakeholders, and the public that has been critical to the success of the program,” said Stu Appelbaum, former Chief of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District's Planning and Policy Division.
Kim was there at the very beginning of Everglades restoration.
After the Governor’s Commission for Sustainable South Florida was convened in 1994, Kim stepped up to serve on the Corps team that developed a conceptual plan for Everglades restoration, that ultimately became the basis for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan or CERP, and continues to this day as the blueprint for Everglades restoration.
"It was so exciting. It's big stuff. Looking at the entire system and how to replumb it to improve the environment. It’s the largest restoration ever attempted," said Taplin. "We were the cutting edge on ecosystem restoration in a built system. Everything we did was cutting edge -- how you go about doing ecological models, how you look at what the benefits of the plan would be, how you determine what do about endangered species and restoration. All of that was new ground, new policies, new things to cover. So that was super exciting."
"We were the staff supporting the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida and the Conceptual Plan that they came up with. We provided them all the technical assistance and information needed to come up with concepts for the plan."
"Getting everybody's ideas and fleshing it out, that whole process of us bringing back that technical information to them -- It was a big education process for all the interests who were working on the commission."
"It was fun to come up with a basis for design, including what it might look like and how much it might cost, and a challenge to restore the Everglades while maintaining services," said Taplin.
The concepts that Kim and that team developed would eventually become the “Restudy” or “Yellow Book.”
The "Yellow Book" is 22,000 pages, and all ten volumes take up several feet on a bookshelf.
The team identified more than 68 projects to improve the quality, quantity, timing, and distribution of water through the Everglades.
At the time, nothing like that had ever been attempted before— it was the largest ecosystem restoration program in the world, and the eyes of the world were upon the Corps.
Then in 2000, CERP was authorized by Congress. Taplin became a Project Manager in charge of planning CERP project components and developing operations for the southern end of the Central & Southern Florida, or C&SF, water management system.
From 2012 through 2014, Taplin served as a Branch Chief in the Jacksonville District’s Planning Division, another high point in her career.
Taplin led the dedicated Central Everglades Planning Project team, which developed the complex plan to restore the heart of the classic Everglades – the legendary “River of Grass.”
"We learned from the 'Restudy' that to get broad support, it's important to have all of the stakeholders to be part of the process in a very engaged way," Taplin said. "We partnered with the South Florida Water Management District and the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which hosted stakeholder workshops to work through the tough issues and concerns stakeholders had. We gave stakeholders a seat at the table and a blank sheet of paper and asked, 'What would restoration look like, and why?' "
CEPP was one of six planning studies chosen for the Corps’ National Pilot Program for SMART Planning. "It was even more challenging because with CEPP, we were working on a 3-year deadline," Taplin said.
"It was fast. It was exciting. Stakeholders were eager to get to this part of the plan. Everybody wanted to see it move forward."
It was critically important to have a robust stakeholder process throughout to ensure the project would receive broad support.
Under Kim’s leadership, the CEPP team successfully completed the study in three years and it was authorized as a $2 billion dollar plan of system modifications to restore the Central portion of the Everglades. They showed that even a comprehensive and complex project could be completed in three years. This represented in a significant reform of the Corps planning process, compressing the usual six to eight years down to three.
"The team was awesome," said Taplin. "It was a highlight of my career working with that team and getting that done for the Central Everglades, so we would be able to restore the Heart of the Everglades."
Taplin has also been able to celebrate other significant milestones during her career with the Corps.
One of the big ones was the construction of the first Tamiami Trail Bridge, and removal of the roadbed that blocked the historic flow of water and altered the natural Everglades landscape. "It seemed like for a while that it might be impossible to do. It was a hard-fought battle to get done," Taplin said. "We had a ribbon cutting ceremony and we walked the bridge. I got to see that, witness it, and drive over it." Every time she drives out to her chickee in Big Cypress Taplin crosses that bridge-- a permanent reminder that the Everglades is worth it- and all the hard work that goes into restoration.
Taplin also worked on the feasibility study for the Indian River Lagoon-South Project, on the east coast of Florida and was able to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area. "Going to the C-44 Reservoir and watching that pump get turned on, it felt like my baby was born. Watching it get turned on and knowing how it's going to help the environment is just so gratifying," she said.
Taplin was there at the very beginning of Everglades restoration, and has been able to see her the work to restore the Everglades for the last 26 years come to fruition.
"What kept me at it and in it, and wanting to be part of it, was that my heart was in the mission, " said Taplin. "How do you do restoration in the Everglades, which I love and is unique in the world? How do we do restoration amongst the built environment? If we here in the United States of America, can't show the world that it can be done and how it can be done, then there goes the planet. It was such and important endeavor to show that it can be done."
"The unique thing about the Corps is that it's always exciting, providing innovative solutions for the Nation's toughest challenges," said Taplin. "It's hard but rewarding."
Jacksonville District Commander Colonel James Booth presented the Meritorious Civilian Service Medal to Kimberly Taplin upon her retirement, with the following recognition:
As Senior Program Manager Forward, Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from April 2015 to April 2022. Ms. Taplin was instrumental in the success of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the South Florida Everglades Ecosystem Restoration Program by providing technical oversight and coordination and engagement with tribal, federal, state, local agencies and stakeholders. Ms. Taplin's commitment to the restoration of America's Everglades and dedication to Federal Service reflect great credit upon her, the Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Army.
Leader. Influencer. History Maker. Problem-solver. Teambuilder. Passionate. Dedicated. Extraordinary. Hero.
“The history of Everglades Restoration and the Jacksonville District is filed with heroes. I'm thinking here of Terry Rice, Stu Applebaum, Dennis Duke, and too many others to mention. But if we had a ‘Mount Rushmore’ for Everglades restoration, Kim Taplin would be on it, said Terrence “Rock” Salt, former Jacksonville District Commander, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Director of Restoration Initiatives in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of the Interior, and the Executive Director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. “Terry, Stu and Dennis were special -- but Kim was even more important, more special-- because she was in the arena from the beginning until now. I can think of no one who deserves more credit than Kim for the success we've achieved--no one! It is sad for me that she is retiring, but proud for her on all she has contributed and pleased for her as she moves to the next chapter of her life.”
It takes psychological strength, great passion for the mission and a deep reservoir of optimism to get past the inevitable disappointments and low moments that come with 25 years of doing something that is inherently hard – that is against the odds. Kim will be the first person to say that she is part of a team, that her accomplishments have not been hers alone – and of course she would be right about that. But Kim’s talent for working on and leading teams is precisely the superpower that has made her a singular player in the Everglades. And Kim’s humility is the reason that this recognition today is so important because Everglades heroes must never be ‘unsung’. Many have noted that women have played an outsized role in the preservation of the Everglades. Kim Taplin has carried on this remarkable tradition. – Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Department of the Interior
As far as her past efforts with the Corps, Kim has been a long standing, passionate, and dedicated supporter of the Everglades and restoration efforts there. Her pure love for the Everglades and the environment is unequaled. She has spent much of her time in the Everglades hiking, swamp slogging, and sleeping in her own Chickee. She spent many hours and afterhours in meetings with stakeholders to ensure that the Everglades was protected. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her and always appreciated her input and insight on restoration efforts,” said Dennis Duke, former Senior Program Manager with the US Department of the Interior, Office of Everglades Restoration Initiatives, South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and Assistant Chief, Programs and Project Management of the US. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District. “She was always highly thought of and well respected among the many players in south Florida and she should be very proud of her contributions.”
“Leader. Influencer. History Maker. These are words that describe Kim Taplin, one of the original heroes of Everglades restoration,” said Drew Bartlett, South Florida Water Management District Executive Director. “Kim has always been a central figure for me in Everglades restoration, and she has always known exactly what to do in any given situation. Kim is a problem-solver, someone who knows how to work across agencies and get the job done. Not only is Kim a joy to work with through maddening issues, she is a joy to be with outside of those maddening issues. She doesn’t get discouraged by roadblocks and knows that all of the long days and sleepless nights are worth it, because we’re succeeding in restoring the largest ecosystem in the world,” said Drew Bartlett, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District. “I’m honored to have worked with and known Kim and wish her the very best as she enters retirement. Kim - Thank you for your pleasant, smiling demeanor, and your tireless devotion to saving America’s Everglades.”
“Kim Taplin is someone you can always count on. She has a deep understanding of Everglades restoration and what it takes to achieve success,” said Retired Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “Her leadership, passion, and tenacity have propelled the USACE into the next generation of Everglades restoration. Kim-Thank you for your tireless dedication to the mission, and for teaching people like me to love the River of Grass. You will be sorely missed but your retirement is extremely well-deserved. The entire Everglades ecosystem is better off because of you!”
“Kim Taplin was truly an asset to the Corps, not only for her professional engineering abilities, but most remembered for her extraordinary skills at explaining the complex issues of Florida’s waters and facilitating so many Corps meetings, with the wide variety and vast numbers of water stakeholders,” said Mark Perry, Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society and Co-Chair of the Everglades Coalition.
Kim Taplin has made history and leaves a lasting legacy as a key player in Everglades Restoration.
Kim, we truly thank you for your 26 years of service to the Corps and our Nation.
We thank you for your leadership and a job well done.
For making a difference in this world and in our lives.
We thank you for your friendship.
We wish you the very best in your retirement, and hope you have a very long, very happy life, as you continue to travel the world and spend time with your beloved family and friends in your beloved Everglades.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.