Nobody, no body, has a better handle on the good, the bad and ugly of Everglades politics and the South Florida Water Management District than the local Okeechobee newspaper, the Lake Okeechobee News. It's been that way ever since I can remember. The News is what community journalism is all about, and then some.
I understand Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis is a busy man, but I wish he would weigh information Lake 'O' News Editor Katrina Elsken could give him against the information he's getting from Everglades Foundation Chief Executive Officer Eric Eikenberg.
Everglades restoration is a complex endeavor. All kinds of special interests -- the Everglades Foundation included -- dangle on it like fruit bats in a forest. Understandably, Eikenberg is now a key member of DeSantis' environmental team. But I'm hoping the new governor will keep his mind open to learning more about the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States, and how it relates to the sources of blue-green algae and red tide damaging South Florida waters.
What reminded me of this again was "EAA Reservoir won't be 'designed on the back of a napkin,'" Elsken's story in Wednesday's Lake Okeechobee News. Nobody else is likely to write a story like this. That's because nobody else I know in the media stays as close to the Reservoir.
The story deals with the Everglades Foundation’s claim that the EAA Reservoir could be designed, engineered and constructed in four years -- a wildly off-base claim confusing a lot of people who, said members of the Water Resources Analysis Coalition (WRAC) at their Dec. 6 meeting, should be united in supporting construction of the reservoir.
SFWMD officials have said two years is the “best case scenario” for design and engineering work required before construction can begin. Eikenberg followers, hugging the four-years-to-finished-product statement, believe the SFWMD is dragging its feet to let sugar farmers keep farming.
What Elsken does in her story is to set the record straight by quoting the authority on the reservoir work, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- which estimates design and engineering on the 10,000-acre, 20-foot-deep storage facility will take about three years minimum, not two.
The Corps' Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds said that, "while some environmental groups have complained that the Corps estimation of three years to design and engineer the Reservoir and at least four years to build it is too long to wait, from her point of view 'the speed that this project is moving is record-breaking,' writes Elsken.
Reynolds explained that large federally-funded construction projects like this reservoir "traditionally move very slowly."
“We don’t design large infrastructure like this on the back of a napkin,” said Lt. Col. Reynolds, “Our projects are built to ensure the public safety of those who live and work in the vicinity of our projects.”
Elsken writes, "The dike around the EAA reservoir will be about the same height as the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. But unlike the earthen Hoover Dike, constructed in the 1930s through the 1960s with whatever materials were dredged from what would become the Rim Canal, the EAA dike will be carefully engineered. Engineers will plan the materials to be used, gather geotechnical data prior to construction, and carefully study the hydrology of the area before construction starts."
- She quotes SFWMD Chief Engineer John Mitnik, who explains the work already completed on the 560 acres between the reservoir and the stormwater treatment area. "Three sugar cane fields are being plowed under so that area can be used to store rocks that will be used to build the reservoir. Materials for the reservoir will also be mined on the site," says the story.
- She quotes Mike Elfenbein, from the the Foundation for Balanced Environmental Stewardship, on the idea of storing water on flat farmland. “I commonly see it written that this land could have been used to store water,” he said. “I don’t think it could. From what I understand about storing water, you have to have infrastructure to do so.”
Yes, the EAA reservoir project has been approved by Congress and the president, but what you don't hear from Eric Eikenberg or Congressman Brian Mast is this: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not -- repeat, not -- start design work until they receive a federal funding appropriation. And there is no such appropriation on the horizon.
For those who want the unbiased truth about the EAA Reservoir -- succinctly and clearly stated by the people closest to the action -- Elsken's story is worth your time and the Lake Okeechobee News is a smart addition to your Internet "browse" list.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith