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Nancy Smith

Ports Advocates Front and Center as President Signs Florida-Critical WRRDA Act

June 10, 2014 - 6:00pm

Environmentalists weren't alone in applauding President Obama Tuesday for signing the bipartisan Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

The Florida Ports Council has been in Washington, D.C., with officials from Gov. Rick Scott's office, from the Florida Department of Transportation and from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity -- all advocating for the Florida-vital legislation.

Floridas congressional leadership was critical to the passage of this important investment in Floridas and this nations infrastructure. With the last water resources act occurring in 2007, the passage of this WRRDA is a true accomplishment, remarked Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council.

This bill contains critical improvements to the Corps project approval process, seaport policy improvements, and long-overdue release of HMT funds, which will assist Florida ports efforts in creating jobs, growing the economy and continuing to position Florida as a global hub for business, Wheeler said.

In a written statement, the Ports Council summed up the final version of WRRDA by saying it "promotes the nations competitiveness, prosperity, and economic growth by upholding the seminal federal responsibility to maintain a strong transportation infrastructure and ensure the efficient flow of domestic and international commerce."

It impacts infrastructure, navigation, flood, environmental restoration, and water projects from the Florida Panhandle all the way to the Everglades.

Julie Hill-Gabriel, Everglades policy director for Audubon Florida, saluted the act's signing. "Now, for the first time in seven years, federal and state restoration partners can start work on new Everglades projects.

Audubon looks forward to continuing our work with project managers to increase vital wetland habitat, protect our fragile coastal estuaries, and to secure the drinking water for over 7 million Floridians, she told the Orlando Sentinel.

Florida environmentalists' enthusiasm for WRRDA's passage may have been somewhat dampened by the Corps Civil Works Review Board, which failed in April to approve the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). Board members found it impractical at this time. Corps officials have called it "a delay."

CEPP is a plan to clean up water from Lake Okeechobee and release it into the Everglades. Now excess water is released into the Caloosahatchee River on the west coast and the St. Lucie River on the east coast.

Specifically, the WRRDA Act reforms the U.S. Army Corps process to remove inefficiencies and add timelines for Corps studies. Among other important provisions, it also assures the full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by 2025 so that 100 percent of the funds collected go toward their intended purpose of operation and maintenance activities.

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

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