WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Biden administration announced Wednesday a historic amount of funding will be allocated to Everglades restoration.
Florida will receive $1.1 billion in funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed into law on Nov. 15.
According to a statement on the White House website, this is the largest single investment ever to restore and revitalize the Everglades in Florida.
Over the last 20 years, as much as $8 billion has been spent on the Everglades system. The promises are now backed by the billion dollars that Florida Democrats say are going to good use.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Florida, applauded the announcement.
"Thanks to the leadership of President Biden, Florida will be receiving the biggest infusion of federal funding for Everglades restoration projects in our state's history," Frankel said. "The Everglades is a beautiful and delicate ecosystem that serves as drinking water for more than eight million Floridians and home to hundreds of endangered plant and animal species. This new funding will significantly boost efforts to make sure that this unique and vibrant environment is kept alive and thriving for future generations."
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $11.6 billion for Army Corps of Engineers construction projects, including the $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration.
Frankel said the funding is in addition to the $350 million set aside for the project in the fiscal year 2022 Energy and Water Appropriations bill.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, who co-chairs the Everglades Caucus with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, released the following statement about the new funding.
"The Everglades is the lifeblood of South Florida, and this historic funding commitment by the Biden Administration will ensure we can much more aggressively move to restore and protect the natural sheet flow of water that is the largest environmental restoration project in American history. The Florida Everglades is a vital source of drinking water and essential to combat climate change and this massive infusion of funding will have the added benefit of creating more jobs," Wasserman Schultz said. "This is enormous news, and allows us to set a course for quicker completion of the world's largest ecosystem restoration project. It will enable the construction of resilient and multi-benefit projects that will increase the carbon sequestration capacity of the ecosystem and protect our communities and local economies for generations to come."
The Everglades Foundation said they are pleased that the federal government is working to preserve the unique ecosystem.
"The Everglades Foundation applauds the federal government's significant commitment of $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration. For too long, the residents of South Florida have suffered as a result of toxic discharges, algae blooms, fish kills, economic losses and a parched Everglades National Park. In order to maximize the environmental benefits to be achieved by Everglades restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers should direct the funding toward construction of the vital [Everglades Agricultural Area] EAA Reservoir," said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg. "This reservoir will benefit all of South Florida, slashing harmful discharges to the coastal estuaries while providing the water desperately needed for America's Everglades and Florida Bay. Furthermore, the EAA Reservoir will boost the carbon sequestration capacity of 3 million acres in the remaining Everglades wetlands. This vital project will also protect the drinking water supply for millions of Floridians. We look forward to working with the Corps and the bipartisan Florida Congressional Delegation to ensure this historic funding achieves the goals of Everglades restoration to store, cleanse and flow freshwater to America’s Everglades and Florida Bay."
The Biden-Harris Administration said the infusion in cash for the Everglades is part of $14 billion in funding this fiscal year for more than 500 projects across 52 states and territories.
Wednesday's announcement did not please every Florida lawmaker. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida, blasted the decision, saying it doesn't include funding for the EAA reservoir that he's advocated.
"For almost a year, I fought to include funding for the EAA southern storage reservoir in Joe Biden's 'once-in-a-generation' infrastructure plan, but the Democrats in Congress and the White House both failed to specifically allocate any money for Everglades restoration. Instead, they kicked the can over to the Army Corps," Mast said. "So, I asked the Army Corps to fix their mistake by fully funding this critical project with the available funds, but instead they've made it worse. Today they announced they wouldn't allocate even one dollar for the EAA reservoir, cementing the Biden Administration's massive screw up. It's clear that Joe Biden has no regard for the wellbeing of South Florida’s environment, economy or public health."
Residents of the Treasure Coast are hopeful that the new cash will help eliminate the ongoing threat of toxic algae.
Jim Karas, the dockmaster at the Fish House Art Center in Port Salerno, has spent the last decades involved in the effort for clean water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary.
"I remain a skeptical optimist," Karas said. "We've heard promises of money. We've heard promises of the latest engineering."
The money is slated for several projects including the Central Everglades Planning Project, affecting water from Lake Okeechobee that travels east, west and south.