You have to hand it to Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. The man knows how to work a con. He could play Harold Hill in “The Music Man” without anyone ever seeing the band uniforms.
When Eikenberg shouts loudly as he has all week that the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors halted any chance of early progress on the EAA Reservoir by extending Florida Crystals Corp.'s farming lease, he’s lying throgh his teeth.
And so far, getting away with it.
I hear from lots of people who don’t understand it all, but they figure if Eikenberg, master of everything holy in the Everglades, said they should be ticked off about a farming extension on land the state doesn't need yet, then by golly, that’s what they’re going to be.
I promise you, Eikenberg knows the Reservoir is going nowhere fast, with or without an extended lease.
Besides, the Water Management District could have granted Florida Crystals a farming right for 20 years -- for 100 years -- and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference.
Why? Because the lease only guarantees the company 20 months of farming. After that, whenever the project is ready to begin, all the state has to do is give the company 120 days notice -- no negotiations, no hidden catch, just GET OUT -- and Crystals has to go.
Believe me, construction is nowhere near ready to begin. In fact, don’t believe me, believe R.D. James, assistant secretary of the army for civil works. On Sept. 10, James wrote a memo to Florida that said, “I will issue additional guidance detailing what additional actions and decision documents will be required prior to initiation of construction.”
Then, in an Oct. 26 memo, after Congress had authorized the Reservoir, James laid out Florida’s extensive to-do list. Have a look at it by clicking here.
Water Management District engineers are already under way on this list, expected at a minimum to take two years for approval on all points.
Get it? Two years to complete "the additional actions and decision documents" the Army Corps requires, and 20 months before the state can tell Florida Crystals to take a hike.
How is that a bad deal? The state gets $1 million from Crystals to cultivate 16,000 acres, exactly as the Legislature mandated.
The Army Corps' Sept. 10 memo is clear: "In accordance with Section 1308(b), the project may only be constructed after the Secretary prepares a report that addresses the concerns, recommendations and conditions identified in the ASA(CW) Review Assessment. The purpose of this memorandum is to provide interim guidance on prepping the report ..." (Emphasis added.)
Look at the mind-boggling Oct. 26 memo. We're talking "an analysis of the reasonable alternatives for the project;" environmental compliance with federal law, Army Corps of Engineers policy, the National Environmental Policy Act; consulting with state and federal agencies, Tribes and other interested stakeholders; validating water quality benefits; conducting a "potential failure modes & life loss consequences analysis;" the list goes on.
It isn’t even a matter of money, though that certainly is an issue. Building a project of this consequence involves very exact detail, involving a collection of agencies along the way.
We can't just start building as if we're living in a vacuum.
But, OK, let's look at the money for a moment. The EAA Reservoir is $1.64 billion state and federal project. The state will get $64 million a year from Everglades Trust recurring money to do its part. The federal share? Who knows. The feds are yet to pay for the C-43, C-44, the Broward projects and much, much more. In fact, this year's budget allocation for the whole of Everglades restoration was $70 million.
Are we expecting President Trump to single out our reservoir for special favors because he and the new governor are friends? I hope we're not that naive. We now live in a world without earmarks, with massive tax breaks to pay for and a crushing deficit.
The day Congress authorized the Reservoir, Eikenberg was planting the seed of deception. His statement:
"Today is a great day for America's Everglades and the people of Florida. Construction can now begin on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that is vital to reconnecting the lake to the Florida Keys."
Really, Senator? The Empire State Building?
Five people -- brave souls, all -- died building that iconic edifice. And that's just the ones we know of. The Depression and hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks and under-the-table contract payoffs in Mayor Jimmy Walker's corrupt Tammany Hall made the Empire State Building happen. And safety regulations? Building standards? Don't ask. If you knew the whole story on cut corners during construction, you probably would leave the place to King Kong.
James' Washington office estimates that building the 23-foot-deep, 10,500-acre reservoir, plus a 6,500-acre water-treatment marsh is likely to take 10 years and probably more than that.
Nevertheless, Eikenberg is cheerleading for four years. "Let's get it built in four years, not 10 or 15," The Key West Citizen quotes him as saying. "If the Army Corps of Engineers can repair the Mosul Dam in one year, this should not take another decade. ... That same agency can build a big ditch to get water moving south to the Everglades and Florida Bay."
The point is, the EAA Reservoir is no Mosul Dam. You can't compare a single modern-day project, no matter how magnificent the monument, to a reservoir meant to take, clean and redistribute water where it's needed without killing off the ecosystem's life forms along the way.
Negron’s pride and joy is now part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, passed as a four-decade marathon in 2001, the most expensive and comprehensive environmental repair attempt in history.
I mention this so you remember the Reservoir doesn’t exist on its own. It is part of a piece of machinery -- intricate, functional. Each part of the machinery sequenced. There’s an order to it.
You can’t just decide, we’ll put this and this on the back burner and jump on the Reservoir first. It can’t work like that.
If you’re wondering where the EAA Reservoir comes in this machinery, it’s right behind not one, but two Central Everglades Planning Project suites. Those projects have to be built and operational before the EAA Reservoir:
- The first group, CEPP South, includes the South Tamiami Trail projects, the ones that make it possible to take south-flowing water where it's needed most.
- The second group, CEPP North, includes the Miami Canal projects to rehydrate the Everglades.
- The third group includes the EAA Reservoir, identified in planning papers as "the New Water."
Unless the first two suites of projects are built first, the Reservoir will have limited efficiency.
This is verbatim from pages 6-61 and 6-62 of the Central Everglades Planning Project impact study:
"Implementation of PPA New Water would decrease high volume freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee that are currently sent to the Northern Estuaries. While water could be moved away from the Northern Estuaries, only a limited amount could be passed south into WCA 3 without the additional outlet capacity provided by PPA South. As a result, the FEB storage capacity would remain largely unavailable following the initial FEB filling each year and the opportunities to divert water away from the Northern Estuaries that the full CEPP plan provides would be extremely limited.