The Miami Herald


One big leap for Everglades restoration


December 06, 2009


As projects go, the Tamiami Bridge, while not cheap at $81 million, is modest compared to, say, the $515 million stadium for the Marlins or even its adjacent parking garage, now priced at $135 million. Then there's the Miami Seaport tunnel, which rings up at around $1 billion for construction.

But the bridge's significance is huge in proportion to its cost or even size at only one mile long. Even though it's not the 11-mile skyway once envisioned, it will nevertheless raise Tamiami Trail's roadbed in one section to allow water once again to begin flowing south to Taylor Slough and into Florida Bay in Everglades National Park. After its completion in 2013, the slough will again be replenished in a way it hasn't known for 85 years, when the Trail was built.

The bridge is a key component to completing the complex Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which the state of Florida and the federal government agreed to fund jointly in 2000.

In fact, the bridge -- or some other remedy to restore the sheet flow -- was first authorized by Congress in 1989. After years of lawsuits, cross-agency squabbling, design revisions, cost cutbacks and other delays, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other notables joined in the bridge groundbreaking Friday.


The pace quickens

At the same time, a number of other CERP projects that have been idle are leaping off the drawing board. Finally, after nearly a decade when about the only movement forward was from the state's putting up $6.8 billion for land purchases and restoration and water-filtering areas, the federal government has picked up the pace.

How? With money and a vigorous recommitment from the Obama administration. Not long after his appointment, Secretary Salazar visited the Everglades, bringing with him $360 million in economic stimulus money for this fiscal year and a promised additional $278 million in 2010.


Bridge is first phase

Two important federal projects in the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida and the Indian River Lagoon on the Southeast coast will begin in 2010. So, too, will a number of smaller but vital related projects.

The Tamiami Bridge is supposed to be the first leg in a plan that will elevate other sections of the roadbed to, as close as possible, restore the historic flow to the now parched slough. Congress has given the Interior Department the go-ahead to conduct environmental studies and report to it with a plan for the next elevation phase next fall.

None of this is easy. Biologists had to wrestle with easing disruptions to the endangered seaside sparrow and Everglades snail kite once the water flow returns. The Miccosukee Indian tribe has concerns for fluctuating water levels and water quality on its land.

In the big view of overall progress, many federal and state employees who have worked on Everglades cleanup for years have had to overcome political infighting, old animosities, endless court cases and occasional misunderstandings to get to this point. Their tenacity and dedication are commendable.

The cost of CERP has risen to about $22.5 billion. That deceptively dwarfs the $81 million Tamiami Bridge's significance. Without it to break the road's dam to free up water flow at the southern end of the Glades, no other project would function as effectively as was intended to bring the River of Grass back to its healthy splendor.