Sunshine State News

October 30, 2017

Scott to Push $50 Million Plan to Repair Lake O Dike

By:  Allison Nielsen

Gov. Rick Scott will push a $50 million proposal to speed up repairs for the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee as part of next year’s fiscal year budget, he announced Monday.

Scott said he plans to ask the Legislature to set aside the sum of money to expedite repairs for the federally operated dike, which is slated to be fixed by 2025. 

The money, the governor said, would axe three years off that completion date, with the dike finishing in 2022. Scott has already met to discuss the Lake O dike repairs with President Donald Trump, who said he would work hand-in-hand with Scott to make sure the repairs were completed quickly. 

Working with the legislature, Scott said, was a step in the right direction but not the end game.

“While this partnership is game-changing, we cannot stop there,” Scott said, highlighting another $1.7 billion proposal to invest in Florida’s environment. 

In recent years, Lake O has been plagued with issues, with the weakness in the dike structure forcing the Army Corps to release excessive discharges. 

The total price tag to repair the dike is $1.7 billion and the Army Corps of Engineers is already about halfway through the restoration process. 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, joined the governor in Clewiston to make the announcement, putting his weight -- and consequently the weight of his chamber -- behind the proposal.

“The fruits of this investment will mean safety and security for the community surrounding the Lake, as well as averting potential environmental dangers,” Corcoran said. “And I’m proud to stand with the governor today and will do all I can to help him hold Washington’s feet to the fire.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also commended Scott for the measure.

“I appreciate Governor Scott’s leadership in ensuring that we make the best use of both state and federal tax dollars as we work to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike and build additional southern storage through the implementation of Senate Bill 10,” he said. 

Representatives from environmental groups said they felt the measure was a good first step.

"Expediting repairs to the levee is critical to protect the health and safety of all those who live in our farming communities south of Lake Okeechobee," said Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for the EAA Farmers, Inc. "We are so thankful to Governor Scott and Speaker Corcoran for their concern for our communities and for seeking real solutions to address Florida’s critical infrastructure needs.”

Other groups said they were glad Scott is taking repairs seriously but said more work needed to be done to help fix environmental issues plaguing the Lake Okeechobee area.

Tammy Jackson-Moore and Janet Taylor, co-chairwomen of #FixTheDike, applauded the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott for "his leadership and unwavering efforts to speed up the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which is a top priority to protect the health and safety of our residents south of Lake Okeechobee.

"The governor has worked tirelessly to secure support and funding from not only Florida House and Senate leaders, but from our federal partners. Thank you, Governor!” said Jackson-Moore and Taylor in a written statement.

 Clean water advocacy group One Florida Foundation said they were hopeful about the new direction of fixing the dike, but said repairs wouldn’t necessarily equate to a total stop of the dangerous discharges flowing into local waterways.

Spokeswoman Nyla Pipes told Sunshine State News the dike “absolutely” needed to be repaired, but noted the measure was likely going to be more useful for keeping residents out of harm's way than anything else. 

“It’s not going to be incredibly helpful ... other than it will make people a little south of the lake safer,” she said. 

The Army Corps prefers to keep the dike between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level, a range which prevents the dike from overflowing. 

This year, however, heavy rains from storms like Hurricane Irma added to an increase in the water level, worrying engineers about the increased risk of disastrous flooding. 

Repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike could assuage those concerns -- but environmental groups also recognize this is just the beginning of a long road ahead for fixing the issues surrounding the dike.

“[Fixing the dike] can help in terrible situations like this year,” Pipes said. “But let’s face it: we have infrastructure issues that will take years to repair... [but] we are incredibly grateful [Scott] has been doing what he’s doing and we are thrilled there has been a focus on the issue in recent years.”