Coalition Seeks Funding for Everglades Restoration

At its 24th annual conference, members of the Everglades Coalition celebrated Florida Gov. Crist’s proposed $1.3 billion purchase of more than 180,000 acres from U.S Sugar Corp. for restoration of America’s Everglades, while asking the Obama Administration to keep its promise of help in providing the necessary leadership, funding, and accountability to revitalize the stagnant restoration program.

“President Obama should appoint a director of Everglades Restoration, based in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, to lead federal efforts to implement Everglades restoration and help restore the federal-state partnership,” said Mark Perry, Everglades Coalition Conference co-chair and executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society. Florida has spent $2 billion on 68 projects to date, six times more than the federal government, he pointed out in a Jan. 14 press release.

Conference organizers said that the combined Everglades restoration project will create more than 3,000 jobs in critical industries in South Florida. “The state of Florida and relevant private companies should also assist in an economic transition for affected local communities compatible with restoration,” added Sara Fain, Coalition Conference co-chair and Everglades restoration program manager of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The Coalition additionally urged the federal government to begin stalled construction of a Tamiami Trail bridge to allow water flow into Everglades National Park that is critical to the success of the restoration program. In his conference speech, Sen. Bill Nelson said “we need to act now” on raising part of Tamiami Trail into a bridge.

“Everglades restoration is at a crossroads,” said Fain. “We have suffered from broken processes, funding shortfalls, and development pressures that continue to compete with restoration, all while the Everglades continues to decline. We need a renewed commitment from the Administration and Congress to get the largest restoration plan in the world back on track.”

In her keynote speech, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said that a healthy, functioning Everglades will assist in offsetting sea-level rise and climate change impacts in southeast and southwest Florida. Crist, who initiated the U.S. Sugar deal and received a hero’s welcome, stated that, although he understood the cost could be “hard for some people to stomach” reminded everyone that this is a one-time, historic opportunity to save the Everglades. 

A longtime advocate of restoration, Sen. Bob Graham spoke passionately for the program in his conference-ending address and urged attendees to contact their representatives in Washington and urge them to help fund the moribund Comprehensive Everglades Restoration program and other projects within the 2009 economic stimulus package.