JACKSONVILLE — Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg claims funding for the EAA reservoir is in jeopardy, but according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the reservoir project has not been delayed.
“Mind-numbing bureaucracy and red tape cannot stand in the way of restoring the Everglades and protecting the economy of America’s third-largest state,” said Mr. Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation.
The Everglades Reservoir project was authorized by Congress in 2018 as a “post-authorization change” to the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which was authorized by Congress in 2016. Earlier this year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated construction funding will require a “new start” designation. This could delay its construction indefinitely, claims Mr. Eikenberg.
In a May 15 media conference, Col. Andrew Kelly, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District commander, said there have been no delays. The federal funding system is complicated, he explained. Project approval is not the same thing as funding appropriation.
Col. Kelly said the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir project is still in the design phase and there have been no delays. Funding for construction of the reservoir is not included in the 2021president’s budget, he explained, but that will not delay the project because they are still working on engineering and design.
The South Florida Water Management District has already started work on the EAA stormwater treatment area (STA). The corps will build the 10,000-acre storage reservoir, which is expected to be complete in 2028 (with three years for engineering and design and five years of construction).
The entire project is expected to cost more than $1.8 billion.
Col. Kelly said there have been some questions from stakeholders about the funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects. The determination that the reservoir will require funding as a “new start” was made by Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James.
Col. Kelly said the 2021 president’s budget has $250 million for CERP. “As that came down, we were told, here’s where that $250 million goes to, here’s the projects it is aligned to.”
He said the Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS) “outlines a bunch of projects that could get done in a certain sequence if everything were perfect.” The schedule does not dictate construction funding, he continued. The IDS is updated each year. “There is no money until you get the budget,” he said. “IDS has options of things you could do if there is money.”
He said the allegations that money for the EAA reservoir was moved to other CERP projects are false. The money was not designated for the EAA reservoir in the budget. “There never was money for something that got moved. There were only options,” he said.
“When we got the 2021 budget, the 2021 budget described where the funding went,” said Col. Kelly. There weren’t dollars in the 2021 budget for EAA reservoir construction. That’s not a problem because the corps can’t start construction on the reservoir until they complete the design and engineering.
“Nothing has delayed the EAA reservoir completion,” said the colonel. “Nothing has delayed our ability to do work. We are still executing design functions. Nothing has slowed down. It’s still full steam ahead. We just don’t have construction dollars yet.”
John Campbell, of the corps media office, said CEPP was approved in 2016. In 2017, the Florida Legislature passed Florida Senate Bill 10, which moves up construction of the reservoir on the IDS. The corps then went back to Congress to amend the CEPP to include the EAA reservoir. This was accomplished with the Post Authorization Change Report.
Mr. Campbell said the authorization language written in 2018 to amend CEPP did make reference to the legal language that authorized CEPP in 2016. He said a legal opinion has found this means the EAA reservoir construction will require a “new start” designation in addition to the “new start” designation already given to CEPP.
Congress only allows the corps a limited number of “new start” construction projects at one time, he explained. There is more focus on finishing projects that have been started than on starting new projects. The corps works with the funding provided by Congress.