The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District celebrated the completion of a major construction effort for the Picayune Strand Restoration project Oct. 24 alongside federal, state and local representatives and Everglades restoration supporters.
The project is conducted in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint endeavor to restore, preserve and protect water resources in central and southern Florida.
Restoring Picayune Strand includes the plugging of 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling roads and constructing three major pump stations, all of which will restore more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat in an area once partially developed for an intended sprawling residential area. The Corps completed construction of the Merritt Pump Station in October as part of a contract which marks a significant step forward in Everglades restoration.
"When the Corps of Engineers awarded the Merritt Pump Station construction contract in 2009, it not only marked the start of a massive restoration project here in Collier County, but it signaled the value of the important partnership we have with the South Florida Water Management District and the State of Florida," said Col. Alan Dodd, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District commander. "The completion of the Merritt Pump Station is a clear demonstration of this partnership at work, and it’s precisely this type of partnership that will further the goals and objectives envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan [CERP] over the coming years.”
The Merritt Pump Station is a key piece of infrastructure for the Picayune Strand Restoration project that will maintain current levels of flood protection while directing fresh water to drained wetlands located downstream. In addition to the pump station, the contract includes 95 miles of roadway that were removed and degraded and about 10 miles of canals that will be plugged to restore the natural flow of water in the area.
Federal appropriations provided more than $66 million in order to complete the Merritt Pump Station. This included approximately $40 million funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which accelerated the construction schedule and helped create local jobs.
“Florida remains committed to Everglades restoration and to the shared investment needed to achieve this goal,” said Blake Guillory, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. “Today’s event here in the western Everglades underscores the fact that we are making tangible restoration progress.”
Ecological benefits are already being seen at Picayune Strand as a result of the restoration work done to date. Native plants and animals are returning to the area, including the wood stork and endangered Florida panther.
By restoring the hydrology in the area, the completed Picayune Strand Restoration project will also directly benefit the southern Gulf Coast estuaries, improving juvenile fish habitats and increasing fish and bird populations, as well as recreational opportunities in the area.
"Picayune Strand is a great conservation success story and provides early proof that Everglades restoration works to improve wetlands and freshwater flows. What could have been a sprawling development is on its way to being great habitat for wading birds, panthers and other wildlife," said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida's executive director."As great flocks of wading birds return to the Everglades we will witness nature's resilience."
The ceremony not only provided attendees with the opportunity to see the completed Merritt Pump Station first-hand, it provided an opportunity to see restoration progress in action. It also brought together a diverse group of individuals, representing numerous agencies and organizations whose collective support continues to provide momentum to move restoration efforts forward.
"Let today serve as a clear demonstration of what our continued partnerships and collaborations will bring and set the tone for how we move forward in our restoration efforts," Dodd said.
The construction contract for the Merritt Pump Station was awarded to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville, Florida, in October 2009. Now that the pump station is fully-constructed, it will undergo one year of operational testing and monitoring.
The Merritt Pump Station was the first CERP construction contract to begin. Progress also continues on the construction of the project’s other two pump stations, the Faka Union and Miller pump stations, with scheduled completion in 2015 and 2018, respectively.
Additional information on the Picayune Strand Restoration Project available at: http://bit.ly/CERP_PSRP.