U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Charlie Crist are teaming up to demand President Donald Trump speed up the federal government’s role in restoring the Everglades, nearly a decade after Crist put the kibosh on a much-needed project to clean up one of the state’s most precious environmental commodities.
Mast and Crist spearheaded a letter urging Trump to act on Everglades restoration, calling for the creation of an Everglades Restoration Taskforce to develop an action plan that will secure new infrastructure funding and accelerate reservoir project completion to “meet or beat” the Army’s schedule.
There is an irony in Crist’s involvement in the Everglades restoration pact. Restoration progress was often considered one of Crist’s biggest casualties during his time as governor. See the 2014 letter from former Gov. Jeb Bush to the Miami Herald reprinted on this page.
Crist is a familiar figure in dealing with Everglades cleanup efforts. When he became governor in 2007, a project was well under way to help restore the Everglades.
Started in 2006, an already-planned reservoir -- the A1 Reservoir -- was priced at a total $800 million. It would have been nearly the size of Boca Raton and hold more water than 100,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Its 22-mile perimeter wall would stand three stories tall. It was scheduled to be completed in 2010.
But, in May 2008, two years and $272 million into construction, work on the reservoir was abruptly halted.
The shutdown coincided with Gov. Crist’s announcement of "an even bolder and costlier Everglades restoration initiative" -- a $1.75 billion state buyout of a 180,000-acre farming empire -- the idea being that they could conserve money and recreate the historic flows of the Everglades.
Crist canceled the contracts negotiated under Gov. Bush when he moved into the governor’s mansion in 2007. Bush called Crist’s decision an example of “failed leadership.”
The canceled plan cost Florida taxpayers $300 million. But beyond that, it put off Everglades restoration, on which many had worked hard to complete.
“It was a massive disappointment to so many leaders and residents across Florida who were committed to restoring the Everglades and who expected the state and local partners to live up to their promises,” Bush wrote in 2014.
Years later, as a Democrat, Crist said his heart was “broken” that Gov. Rick Scott didn’t care as much about cleaning up the Everglades as he did.
The contract was canceled nearly 10 years ago.
Now, time, the congressmen say, is of the essence for Everglades restoration and delays could mean an uptick in costs and a colossal impact on South Florida’s waterways.
Reservoirs, they wrote, are critical components to halting polluted water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Without CERP projects and the reservoirs, algae blooms could run rampant in South Florida, damaging the environment, threatening human health and killing precious wildlife.
But one of those reservoirs, like the one Crist canceled, might have helped. Had the A1 been built as it first was designed, it would have taken much of the damaging lake water that ravaged the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries in 2013 and 2016.
The congressmen said in their letter even just a little bit of money Trump promised for infrastructure could make a world of a difference to Florida’s environment.
“Directing just a fraction of the $1 trillion investment of which you spoke could fully fund the construction of these outstanding projects and save one of our nation’s most iconic landscapes while also yielding the economic and job benefits the American people expect and deserve,” the congressmen wrote.
The letter from Florida's congressional delegation comes as the state Legislature is considering two proposals to end the release of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.
One of the proposals, SB 10, sponsored by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart via Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would create a 60,000-acre reservoir south of Lake O. Another bill, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, would provide $1 billion to get Herbert Hoover Dike repairs done quicker and to raise water levels Temporarily, to help end the polluted releases.
Meanwhile, Crist continues to push for a new solution to a problem, telling Trump many projects are still awaiting construction -- and saying delays could threaten to ramp up project completion costs.
“More must be done,” the letter read.
Crist does not mention his previous experience with the A1 Everglades project.
Sunshine State News contacted Crist for comment but had not received a response at the time of this story’s release.