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Nancy Smith

Gayle Harrell Unveils Memorial to Light a Fire Under Congress for Everglades Restoration

January 14, 2014 - 6:00pm

Flanked by toxic-water weary Treasure Coast officials and other constituents, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Port St. Lucie, unveiled a Memorial this morning she vows to shepherd through the House and all the way to Washington, D.C.

Her Memorial, House Memorial 607, is a nonbinding, declarative message to Congress urging the completion of a large chunk of Everglades restoration as a priority.

Doing something about that "chunk" would go a long way toward discharginglake water into the Everglades instead of into the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River estuaries, Harrell said.

"House Memorial 607 is simply a message from Florida to the president and to Congress," she explained. "It is the voice of the people of Florida as expressed through the Legislature -- a plea for Congress before it adjourns to enact a Water Resources Development Act authorizing and then appropriating funds for the next phase of Everglades restoration."

Harrell said of the Memorial, "This is going to be a very useful tool to lobby Congress with. This is an election year, Florida is an important state. If ever our issues are going to be important, they're going to be important now."

She vowed to walk the Memorial through the offices of Congress herself -- "get up in a few faces" -- once the Legislature passes 607.

It was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-mandated freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee last spring that promoted algae blooms and accelerated toxins in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie waterways.

The Memorial says it all: "A Water Resources Development Act is the legislative vehicle to allow federal agencies to implement the historic Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) partnership between the State of Florida and the Federal Government."

All CERP projects authorized in previous acts are under construction, the Memorial reads. That includes restoration of Picayune Strand and the Indian River Lagoon South.

Specifically named in Harrell's document as needing congressional authorization are "five key components" of the next phase of restoration:

-- the Broward County Water Preserve Area,

-- the C-111 Spreader Canal

-- the Caloosahatchee River C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir

-- Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands, and

-- the Central Everglades Planning Project.

The storage areas, Harrell pointed out, are vital to holding water and allowing it to flow south to the Everglades National Park. While the park is parched, starved for water, massive freshwater discharges are destroying life in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.

"The state of Florida is doing its share," she said. "The Senate side is putting $80 million in the budget for restoration projects. The governor has pledged another $180 million. And we've already spent $2.5 billion on land acquisition. It's time for the federal government to step up.

"Everglades restoration is a 50-50 partnership."

In 2013, the Corps began releasing water from the lake in May after a record-setting start to the rainy season saw lake levels rise past 16 feet above sea level. As the lake rises so does the Corps concern for the aging dike around the lake and the safety of communities on the lakes shore.

Construction on the 143-mile Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake began in the 1930s after hurricanes killed more than 2,000 people and swamped much of the lower part of the state. It is now in such poor condition that it is ranked among the most likely to fail in the United States. Higher water levels put more pressure on the dike and because water can flow into the lake six times faster than it leaves the lake, the Corps tries to keep the lake level between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet during the rainy season.

Much of the time this past spring and early summer the lake level was at 15.67 feet.

In May the Corps began releasing water from the lake into the estuary and river in an attempt to control the rising waters. But as the rains increased and the lake rose, so did the releases. Billions of gallons of fresh water were flushed into the estuary, where brackish water with higher salinity levels support a delicate ecosystem. The fresh water lowered the salinity levels and oysters, sea grasses and other wildlife began dying.

A toxic algae blossomed in the St. Lucie estuary and water conditions were so poor that at one point during August, the Martin County Health Department posted signs warning people to stay out of the water.

Harrell said an important part of the Memorial is its conclusion: "Be it further resolved that Congress increase annual appropriations for rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike to accelerate project completion ..."

She also said the Memorial will have a sponsor in the Senate before long.

Click on the attachment at the end of this story to read the complete Memorial.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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