For Everglades restoration, the year started off with lots of excitement and momentum as the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) accelerated, with the ambitious goal of delivering – within two years – finalized plans for congressional authorization for a suite of restoration projects in the central Everglades.
CEPP is a key project being implemented under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Planning Transformation Process, which will streamline the project planning process to produce concise Chief of Engineers reports faster and at lower cost. The project is currently in the analysis phase.
"Together with our partner, the South Florida Water Management District, we're going to have more action and less paper pushing,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy in reference to CEPP at the 27th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference in January 2012.
The Everglades provided the backdrop for high level events, including a visit from Vice President Joe Biden to Tamiami Trail April 23 to discuss the administration’s efforts to restore the Everglades.
“About a mile from here, we’re building a bridge to raise up the Tamiami Trail so there can be a natural flow of water,” Biden said.
Construction of the $81 million Tamiami Trail project, a key component of the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park, began in 2010. The project includes constructing a one-mile bridge and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of road, allowing increased water flows that are essential to the health and viability of the Everglades.
"Last year, the Corps of Engineers’ construction project generated 6,600 good paying jobs for Floridians and their families – and thousands of indirect jobs," Biden said. Restoration projects currently under way will garner "$46.5 billion net additional revenue to the state of Florida – just as a consequence of this restoration.”
By July, the first concrete pour took place on the bridge deck of the Tamiami Trail bridge. Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick saw the bridge under construction first-hand when he visited the Everglades in October to see the restoration work being performed by Jacksonville District and its partnering agencies.
"USACE has one of the largest environmental restoration and sustainability roles in the federal government, and the Everglades restoration is our largest project of this kind," said Bostick. “After viewing first-hand the enormous challenges facing Everglades restoration and meeting with our partners in this effort, I am absolutely convinced that working together, we can achieve restoration goals and improve this ecological treasure for future generations."
Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander, and members of the project team also attended the site visit with Gen. Bostick to discuss the ongoing construction at the site.
"Progress continues to be made in Everglades restoration," said Dodd. "This progress is contingent upon the commitment of this district and our partnering agencies. Through a dedicated and collaborative effort, we will not only continue to move forward in our restoration goals but also fulfill our obligation to the nation to preserve this national treasure."
Progress also continued at the Kissimmee River Restoration (KRR) project with the excavation and connection of two oxbows to the C-38 canal, located on the Kissimmee River. A component of the project, the KRR Reach 4 Backfilling Project, received an Environmental Merit Award in the 2012 Chief of Engineers Awards of Excellence Program.
“I am excited for this once-in-a-lifetime experience to work on a project that’s restoring an ecosystem and giving back to the local area,” said Richard Hearne, KRR project construction control technician.
Excavation work also progressed at the Indian River Lagoon’s C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, as the intake and the eastern C-133 canals are being excavated under the project’s first contract.
Everglades restoration projects not only made progress in the field, but also made progress in the review and approval process. Three restoration projects received Records of Decision this year and have been transmitted to Congress to await authorization: the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project, Broward County Water Preserve Areas and Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Phase 1 Project.
“The Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Phase 1 Project has come through important milestones over the past two years,” said project manager Tim Brown. “Achieving a signed Record of Decision for this project demonstrates how the Corps is committed to Everglades restoration and has what it takes to execute the program successfully. I'm looking forward to implementing the next phase of this project and turning dirt.”
Also receiving a signed Record of Decision was the Everglades Restoration Transition Plan (ERTP), which provided the authority for ERTP to replace the current Interim Operational Plan for Protection of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (IOP), and modified current water management operations of the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) project.
“ERTP incorporates more flexible operating criteria to better manage Water Conservation Area 3A for the benefit of multiple species,” said project manager Donna George. “It represents a positive step towards balancing the competing needs of a complex system.”
A multi-agency partnership preserved a critical piece of land for Florida panthers this year, which ultimately will encourage the natural recovery of the panther population by providing habitat where animals can den and stalk prey and migrate from southern Florida to areas north of the river.
Through the collaborative efforts of numerous federal, state and private organizations, the 1,278-acre American Prime property in Glades County, a property described as a “keystone tract” in the single most important area in the state for ensuring the natural recovery of Florida panthers, was purchased by The Nature Conservancy May 16.
The Corps prepared all the necessary documents to facilitate the easement exchange that would allow for the creation of the proposed "panther corridor,” enabling panthers to disperse from habitats restricted to south Florida.
“The successful completion of this land acquisition effort makes me very proud to be part of the multi-agency team, our organization and our mission,” said Karl Nixon, deputy chief of the Real Estate Division. “It reaffirms to me that, when people unite for a common goal of protecting valuable habitat, we can make a difference.”
The fourth biennial evaluation of progress being made in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was also released this year by the National Research Council.
According to the report, twelve years into the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project shows little progress made in restoring the core of the remaining Everglades ecosystem; instead, most project construction so far has occurred along its periphery. To reverse ongoing ecosystem declines, it will be necessary to expedite restoration projects that target the central Everglades, and to improve both the quality and quantity of the water in the ecosystem.
“With the continued financial support of the administration and the state of Florida, progress continues to be made with Everglades restoration,” said Howie Gonzales, Ecosystem Branch chief. “In partnership with the South Florida Water Management District, we are currently planning, designing and constructing multiple components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), with more planned for the future.”