CLEWISTON, Fla. — On the shores of Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, officials gathered and watched.
The Army Corps of Engineers headlined the ribbon-cutting ceremony to signal the finish of the restoration of the Herbert Hoover Dike about three years ahead of schedule, costing $1.5 billion in federal and state money.
"Safety is our No. 1 priority," Col. Jamie Booth, head of the Army Corps of Engineers effort, said. "The goal of the project is to protect human life."
An engineer once said driving concrete into the old earthen levee was like filling a tooth.
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Fifty-six miles in this case, which ring Lake Okeechobee with new water control systems.
Hendry County Commissioner Emma Byrd and her neighbors will sleep better now.
"We are so grateful to be in that zone to know that at night when we rest we don't have to worry about being flooded out," Byrd said.
Environmentalists see a new day for Everglades restoration. A big lake that can safely hold more water while also sending more of that water south to the Everglades.
"This is storing, cleaning and sending water south — not east and west — south down to the Everglades, down to the Florida Keys," Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.
They may have gathered under one big tent Wednesday but differences persist.
Fishermen contend that lake fisheries are already being ruined by too much water stored in the lake. They don't want a stronger dike to be a reason for even more water storage.
"It destroys all the submerged vegetation," professional angler Scott Martin said. "The bass and the croppy do not have places to spawn anymore."
It's a big step forward for safety but a reminder of the water challenges ahead.