Construction continues on Herbert Hoover Dike

Posted at 7:10 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 19:10:58-05

Construction continues to strengthen the old, weakened Herbert Hoover Dike south of Lake Okeechobee.

Friday, WPTV was given a tour of the progress made since construction began nearly 10 years ago.

In those years, more than 20 miles of dike along the south end of the lake has been strengthened and updated.

The goal in the dike rehabilitation project is to strengthen 52 miles of the dike south of the lake. That portion of the lake was built in the 1930s, according to an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson, John Campbell.

Construction standards were no where near the level they are today, Campbell explained.

"The dike is not structurally sound. It's not. There's significant problems with it," Campbell said.

As a result, Campbell says the risk for lake water to breach through the dike increases with elevating lake levels, putting communities near the lake at risk.

Campbell says the current lake level still exceeds 16-feet.

Current construction focuses around updating water control structures that help send water to and from agricultural areas.

The priority for the Corps, Campbell says, is protecting nearby communities from a possible breach. For now, that is taking priority over the conditions in the estuary.

Water has to be released to prevent further deterioration of the dike.

"As much as the Corps of Engineers and other agencies value the environment, we value public safety as well… We don't want to be in that situation where we're having to do heroic things to keep the dike from failing," Campbell said.

Construction crews work as quickly as they can to strengthen and update the dike. Campbell says there are few contractors qualified to work on the dike.

"They want this fixed as quickly as possible. It's a very long process but we are working as quickly as possible," Campbell said.

The entire project could still take nearly ten years to complete.

Once completed, Campbell says there could be benefits to the St. Lucie Estuary.

A stronger dike could delay the need to release water to the St. Lucie Estuary. Campbell says it wouldn't allow for a huge amount of water, but could allow the lake to hold a few more inches before water releases would be necessary.

More than $500 million dollars has been invested in the project so far. Campbell anticipates the entire dike rehabilitation will cost well over a billion dollars.