Another banner year for district’s ecosystem restoration program

Published Jan. 14, 2014

With major contract awards, dedication ceremonies and the completion of the first Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) project this past year, it is safe to say that 2013 was a busy and productive year for Jacksonville District’s ecosystem restoration program.

“It has been another banner year for the district’s ecosystem restoration program and the Ecosystem Branch,” said Howie Gonzales, chief of the Ecosystem Branch. “Our team has made significant progress in the planning, design and construction of critical ecosystem restoration projects for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program (SFER), including the CERP Mega-Project. In fiscal year 2013 alone, the SFER program executed approximately $110 million in work that will continue to provide for the restoration of the south Florida ecosystem and America's Everglades.”

Amidst the multiple CERP components currently in planning, design and construction phases, a fully completed CERP project was delivered in 2013. The Melaleuca Eradication and Other Exotic Plants Research Annex is the first CERP project to be completed. At the new facility, insects will be raised and used as a biocontrol measure, to manage invasive plants. Construction began in July 2011, with federal funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Construction was completed on the facility August 30 and the project was transferred to the local sponsor, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Progress also continued on the Central Everglades Planning Project this year.  The draft report was released for public and agency review in August and a series of public meetings was held in September to discuss the draft report and solicit public comments.  The public comment period closed Nov. 1 and the project team is currently revising the draft report based on the input received during the comment period. 

“The progress made to date on this report is precedent-setting,” said Eric Bush, chief, Planning and Policy Division. “In two years, this team has accomplished what has previously taken six years, or even longer, to complete for Everglades restoration projects. Not only is this project setting the foundation for future restoration efforts in the central Everglades, but is also setting the foundation for future planning efforts as well.” 

Partnership and collaboration has always been a key component of Everglades restoration, and 2013 was full of joint efforts and celebrations. The year started with federal and state partners coming together to celebrate the completion of a key component in improving freshwater deliveries to the southern end of the Everglades ecosystem at the C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project Dedication Ceremony Jan. 11 in Homestead, Fla.  

Another project aimed at rehydrating the southern end of the Everglades ecosystem accomplished a key milestone when the one-mile bridge was completed for the Tamiami Trail Modifications project. A dedication ceremony was held atop the 5,280 linear feet of restoration progress March 19 in Miami, Fla.

"Today marks a critical milestone for the Tamiami Trail Modifications project,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy, who spoke at the ceremony alongside then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball and South Florida National Parks Trust Board Chairman Neal McAliley. “But, there is still more to do. With the continued support of the administration, the state of Florida and our partnering agencies, we will continue our work to restore this American treasure."

The bridge is part of the Tamiami Trail Modifications project, a key component in the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park project that, once completed, will allow for increased water flow into Everglades National Park.

As part of the project, on May 15, the old Tamiami Trail roadway was broken through during roadway removal efforts. The road served as a longstanding physical barrier, preventing water from flowing into Everglades National Park. 

Earlier in the year, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, former Corps deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations, visited district project sites in south Florida, including the Tamiami Trail Modifications project and the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation project.

“Jacksonville District has the second largest civil works program in the Corps and is responsible for some of our most significant civil works projects,” said Walsh. “By visiting Herbert Hoover Dike and ongoing Everglades restoration efforts, I saw the great progress that has been made to date. Equally as important, I was impressed by this district's dedication to delivering the best possible engineering solutions and services that contribute to the nation’s economy, environment, safety and quality of life.”

Water is also now flowing beneath the newly-constructed CSX Railroad Bridge after the northern earthern plug was removed at the Kissimmee River Restoration (KRR) project May 8.  The bridge will allow for restoration of the historic Kissimmee River channel. The channel was dredged through the previous railroad embankment to recreate the historic riverbed as part of the KRR project which, once completed, will restore more than 40 square miles of river-floodplain ecosystem.

Progress also continued on the Indian River Lagoon-South C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area in Martin County, Fla. Construction on Contract 1, for the intake canal and access roads, is approximately 81 percent complete.  As a result of the SFWMD receiving unexpected funding from the state, the contract execution schedule is currently being adjusted. The SFWMD will now construct Contract 3, the stormwater treatment area, early next year. Jacksonville District and SFWMD are currently discussing how to best implement the features for Contract 2, the reservoir.

On Florida’s west coast, the third and final pump station for the Picayune Strand Restoration project is now under contract for construction in Collier County, Fla.  The $75,714,070 construction contract was awarded to Archer Western Construction, LLC of Tampa, Fla., Sept. 5.  The contract is for the construction of the Miller Pump Station, which includes a 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs) pump station, a tie-back levee system, a spreader basin and road removal and canal plugging that will rehydrate a portion of the 55,000-acre restoration project.

“By awarding this contract, we are one step closer in our restoration goals,” said Lacy Shaw, project manager. “When we first broke ground on this project in 2010, we hit the ground running and we look forward to maintaining this momentum alongside our partner, SFWMD, to bring this restoration project to completion.”

The Picayune Strand Restoration Project was the first CERP project to break ground in January 2010. Once completed, the project will restore water flow across the landscape, rehydrate drained wetlands, provide aquifer recharge, improve estuarine waters and return habitat to threatened wildlife communities.  Both the Faka Union and Merritt pump stations are currently under construction.  The Merritt Pump Station is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, the Faka Union Pump Station is scheduled to be completed in fall 2014, and the Miller Pump Station in 2018.

With respect to contract awards, a construction contract for the Site 1 Impoundment Project was awarded Jan. 18 to Munilla Construction Management, LLC, of Miami, Fla.  The nearly $48 million contract will bring Phase One of the project to completion.  When completed, the Site 1 Impoundment project will capture and store excess surface water runoff from the Hillsboro watershed as well as releases from the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and Lake Okeechobee.

Not only was the first CERP project completed this year, but the interim study used to determine if the goals and objectives of CERP are being met was released this year as well.  

An Interim Update on the System Status Report (SSR) was released this April.  The full SSR is scheduled for release in 2014, with the draft scheduled for review this spring.  The SSR is developed using data collected by the Restoration Coordination and Verification (RECOVER) Monitoring and Assessment Plan (MAP) program for CERP, and evaluates data from different geographic regions, including Lake Okeechobee, the Northern Estuaries, Greater Everglades and Southern Coastal Systems.

“The data presented in this report is used to not only summarize changes in the ecosystem that are consistent with the goals and purposes of CERP, but also to recognize and discuss, when necessary, why goals are not currently being met,” said Andy LoSchiavo, RECOVER adaptive management coordinator. “It also identifies any unanticipated findings during the duration of monitoring that may require future attention and correction through adaptive management.”

Science in action was also witnessed with the commencement of the Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3) Decompartmentalization and Sheetflow Enhancement Physical Model (DPM) Nov. 5. The DPM is a field test being conducted along a 3,000-foot stretch of the L-67A and L-67C levees and canals in WCA-3A and 3B that is designed to address scientific, water flow and water management uncertainties that require clarification prior to future planning and construction of Everglades restoration projects.

Whether it is project planning, project execution or project completion, the district’s ecosystem restoration team serves as a driving force to maintain momentum on critical ecosystem restoration projects.  Jacksonville District has the largest ecosystem restoration program in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, based on the accomplishments the team has made in just the past 12 months, it is apparent that the district continues to excel in its endeavors.