CLEWISTON — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will suspend its work on the Lake Okeechobee dike in the lakefront park area for the four peak months of fishing tournament season in the next two years while the rehabilitation is finished.
While the public recreation areas on the lake side of the dike will be closed to public access during the construction, the boat basin will remain open and there will be an alternative access to the dike east of the present crossing, which will be closed.
The Clewiston City Commission heard a comprehensive update on Monday, Aug. 19, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Ingrid Bon, one of the project managers for the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation Project’s Clewiston area components.
While showing her PowerPoint presentation, Ms. Bon told the commissioners: “In this area because it’s at the Clewiston park, we have restricted (the contractors) that they cannot work between Culvert 2 and the lock in the months of November through February. So if they’re ready to start work, and that is in late December, you can expect them to be working west of Culvert 2, although they have not finalized their plans yet.”
“We are fully funded to complete this construction project by 2022,” Ms. Bon stated. She said that with the fiscal 2019 congressional allocation of $162.4 million, the State of Florida’s total contribution of $100 million and more than half a billion dollars ($514.2 million) from FEMA’s Supplemental Disaster Relief Fund, the fast-tracking of the project will see “substantial completion / reduced risks by 2022,” according to one slide in her presentation.
“So with all of those taxpayer dollars, we will be able to completely finalize all of the different construction projects and call this rehabilitation work ‘done’ by 2022. That is our goal, ma’am,” Ms. Bon finished, addressing Mayor Mali Gardner.
The mayor inquired about the FEMA flood maps that are nearing completion after they were ordered redrawn in 2016. “They are out in public comment at this time?” she asked. The city’s flood risk manager remarked that he had spoken with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in Atlanta about a month ago and they were expecting the contractor to finalize those documents at any time.
Mayor Gardner said she’d like City Manager Randy Martin to find out when the comment period closes and the new flood maps will go into effect. “That would be helpful for the community to know,” she said. Those flood maps determine how expensive homeowners’ flood insurance coverages will get in the area.
During her presentation, Ms. Bon explained that the USACE’s contractors will not be working on their projects in the park area at the Clewiston waterfront on Lake Okeechobee for each of the next two tourist seasons from November 2019 through February 2020 and then again in the season of 2020-21 in order to accommodate the fishing tournaments run out of Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort.
City Manager Randy Martin noted that although the recreation area will be closed during that time, Ms. Bon said the USACE would consult with the city on those times.
During work on Task Order No. 2 of the Reach 1 cutoff wall project, the Clewiston recreational area will be closed and it’s unknown at this time whether it could be reopened to the public right after the tournaments largely conclude for the season in late February, or later, she said, because the contractors have not finalized their schedules.
Mayor Gardner said she’d understood that they would be through in that section by next fall. City Manager Randy Martin suggested to Ms. Bon that they meet regarding the schedule or at least give city officials access to fix any conflicts.
Ms. Bon said, “I don’t want to give you false hopes … (but) they want to get in, get their work done and get out.”
Commissioner Julio Rodriguez asked whether the south side of the park will be constantly open, and she answered that only the lake side of the dike will be affected.
The boat basin will stay open.
Ms. Bon spoke about the history of the USACE’s installations at Lake Okeechobee beginning in the 1930s and said, “The purpose of our rehab project is first and foremost to safeguard human life. That’s why the federal government has been investing taxpayer dollars … Without the intervention of the government, the dam would be likely to fail.”
She said that while the lake itself is only 730 square miles, it drains a basin consisting of 5,600 square miles. “A foot of rainfall in that basin can raise the lake levels three to four feet very quickly, and it takes a lot longer to let it flow out,” Ms. Bon explained.
“Compared to a gravity dam — we consider it a dam, but… — it doesn’t have the overflow capacity that you would expect for a normal dam.”