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Gov. Scott gets less state money than expected to fix the Lake Okeechobee dike

Posted at 3:19 PM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 20:00:52-04

This week, Florida Governor Rick Scott came to West Palm Beach to tout major moves for the Herbert Hoover dike repairs around Lake Okeechobee.

The state approved only a fraction of what he asked for in the state budget and residents who live near the lake hope he can keep his promises to get the repairs finished before a major storm hits.

Governor Scott asked for $200 million in the state budget to go toward fixing the dikes. He only got $50 million, way less than he hoped for out of a budget of $83 billion.

Those who live and work around the lake say they’ll be holding him accountable for anything that happens -- be it flooding or another algae crisis -- before these repairs can be finished.

With only $50 million from the state budget going toward the Herbert Hoover dike repairs, Governor Scott said he's relying on the President to help.

“President Trump has committed to be a partner. He’s committed to get that dike finished. My goal is 2022," he said. “He is committed to making sure we get that done.”

Gov. Scott added that the goal is to add more money in next year's budget.

That's three years sooner than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated. And although the dike repairs are a federal project, Governor Scott couldn't say how the state would get reimbursed.

“We’re still working through that," he said. "Everything we do accelerates it because if you just look at what you have to do with the dike, it’s not just one thing…you’ve got projects all around the lake.”

Janet Taylor, president of the Glades Lives Matter organization, lost family members in the 1928 storm that killed thousands around the lake.

“When you ride down Highway 27 and you see them working on that dike, and then you hear they don’t have money there to repair the dike -- it’s devastating," she said.

But the mayor of Clewiston, Mali Gardner, said she's trying to stay optimistic.

“The $50 million at least is a step in the right direction," she said. “It’s a huge huge amount and of course every year it changes and unfortunately it keeps going up so that’s why now is the time to get it done.”

Either way, Taylor says her group will be making sure Governor Scott and President Trump keep their promise.

“We’re going to make sure not only the governor but the federal government is held accountable," she said. "We’re all hopeful and and praying that this will come to fruition, that we’re going to a stop talking about this and actually do something about this lake.”

With the clock ticking, locals are having to dig deeper into their wallets.

Another issue people are dealing with is rising flood insurance rates.  The longer the dike project goes unfinished, the more people have to pay.

Mary Ann Martin is one of those who live and work around the lake. She has built her Clewiston business, Roland Martin Marina and Resort, from the ground up.

"It's grown steadily as a child, from birth! And we're still adding to it," she said. "Lake Okeechobee is a priceless jewel. It is up to us to manage that lake. And the protection it needs is to be a shallow water lake, it was never ever meant to be a reservoir."

As projects continue around Lake Okeechobee, concerns about the reliability of the dike are sending insurance prices soaring around the lake.

"The people come here to buy a home, they're gonna get a mortgage and guess what? They gotta pay flood insurance. And for those families that's a lot of money," she said. "It affects every resident in this town. It affects the banks, it affects the businesses."

The areas of the dike in the western portion of Palm Beach County are considered the most vulnerable to erosion and at risk for a breach. Ramon Iglesias, the marina general manager, said they have to pay $25,000 per year in insurance premiums for flood insurance.

"It's huge for us. But you take a single mom or man and wife that are just trying to make it, that have to pay quite a bit more for flood insurance," Iglesias said.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it will $930 million more dollars to finish construction.

"Next year is going to be another budget issue. And I think it's going to continue to prolong," said Iglesias. "Would I like to see it by 2022? Absolutely. Do I feel like it's going to happen? Probably not."

"I think it's on a roll to where you can't stop it. I think the ball has just gotten so big it's not going to happen," said Martin.

Governor Scott said the state has already invested $680 million around the Everglades. Legislation requires funding every year for the Everglades.