Salazar Helps Break Ground on Picayune Strand Restoration Project

When completed in 2015, the $448-million project will feature three major pump stations, removal of 260 miles of roads, and filling in of 42 miles of canals.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar joined federal and state officials to break ground Feb. 18 on the Picayune Strand habitat restoration project/Faka Union Canal pump station, a major component of the overall Picayune Strand project that will boost Florida’s economy while restoring historic water flows in the southwest Everglades.

Salazar participated in the event as part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative which seeks to empower community-led conservation efforts.

“The work here to restore water flows and wetlands in the Picayune Strand is really a model for conservation efforts across the nation,” Salazar said. “Along with the other restoration projects like bridging the Tamiami Trail and the Site-1 Impoundment project, this collaborative effort is making dramatic strides in bringing the Everglades back to life while providing jobs and economic benefits to the citizens of South Florida.”

When completed in 2015, the $448-million project will feature three major pump stations, removal of 260 miles of roads, and filling in of 42 miles of canals. It will restore and enhance more than 55,000 acres of wetlands in the Picayune Strand and adjacent public lands, including Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Fakahatchee State Forest, by reducing over-drainage and restoring groundwater levels and more natural overland flow.

The restoration will provide direct benefits to the many plant and animal species inhabiting the area by re-creating the historical natural conditions of the area and connecting broad expanses of other protected areas.

The Picayune Strand is the site of a housing development known as Southern Golden Gates Estates begun in the 1960s and early 1970s. Before the development failed in the mid-1980s, 279 miles of roads and 48 miles of canals had been built that 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.

After the development failed, the state of Florida began buying up the many parcels with the intent of restoring the area. Acquisition was completed in 2005 at a cost of more than $125 million. The Department of the Interior contributed $38 million to this effort.

Ultimately, 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 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 Army Corps of Engineers awarded its first contract in November 2009 for the construction of the Merritt Pump Station, plugging 14 miles of canals, and removing 95 miles of roadwork at a cost of $53 million, which included over $40 million in stimulus funding. Construction is well under way.

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