Coalition harnesses bipartisan enthusiasm to set priorities for Everglades funding and revitalization
Everglades champions and advocates convened earlier this month in Coral Gables, Florida, for the 28th annual Everglades Coalition Conference–an event that unites hundreds of people who are working to restore America’s Everglades. Looking back over recent years and at the opportunities that lie ahead, there is a lot to celebrate.
Under the leadership of NPCA’s Dawn Shirreffs, the Everglades Coalition organized a well-attended event with more than 300 participants, none of whom complained about traveling to sunny South Florida in January. State and federal officials were there to highlight the restoration efforts underway and outline the exciting opportunities ahead.
During the week leading up to the conference, two congressional Everglades champions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL), joined together in a strong display of bipartisan support by reinstating the Everglades Congressional Caucus, a group of members of Congress who have a special interest in protecting and restoring the Everglades for its environmental and economic benefits. In recent years, something as vital as restoring America’s Everglades unfortunately fell into the pit of partisanship. However, with the announcement from Representatives Diaz-Balart and Hastings, the Everglades Caucus is back in business. And it is growing in members very quickly, with three of Florida’s newest members of Congress–Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), and Joe Garcia (D-FL)–committing to joining the caucus in their remarks to conference participants, who responded with much applause.
NPCA hosted Friday night’s dinner where NPCA Vice President Theresa Pierno emceed the evening, which included speeches from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis, Jr. In his keynote address, Secretary Salazar highlighted the need to move forward on the additional 5.5 miles of bridging along Tamiami Trail as part of the National Parks Centennial in 2016.
Representatives Diaz-Balart and Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke at Saturday night’s dinner about their continued commitment to Everglades restoration. Both members noted the opportunities to find common ground and advance much-needed funding, even during a time when the budget is tight. This is particularly significant coming from two members from Florida who sit on the House Appropriations Committee.
Participants emphasized several priorities repeatedly during the conference:
- Move forward with additional bridging on Tamiami Trail to restore water flow south to Everglades National Park.
- Encourage President Obama, Congress, Governor Scott, and the Florida General Assembly to commit the funding necessary for Everglades projects to advance.
- Encourage Congress to pass a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) to authorize construction on five restoration projects to move forward. Currently all authorized projects are underway and progress will stall unless Congress acts.
- Leverage penalties from the BP Gulf oil spill for projects that restore the Southern Gulf of Mexico, which include certain Everglades projects.
During the conference, we celebrated the completion of a major restoration achievement: phase one of the C-111 spreader canal, a project that is part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. The C-111 is one of the largest canals in South Florida; over time, its use has altered the water flow out of Everglades, draining fresh water from the park’s adjacent wetlands. The newly constructed spreader will prevent the water table from getting too low at the park by increasing the amount of fresh water entering through Taylor Slough. This move will revitalize Florida Bay where unusually high concentrations of salt water have threatened wildlife and habitat. To move forward with construction on phase two, Congress must pass WRDA to authorize the project.
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Fortunately, we will celebrate another major milestone next month. The federal government will complete construction on the one-mile bridge on Tamiami Trail–an essential step to restore critical water flow south to Everglades National Park.
About the author
Sarah Gaines Barmeyer Deputy Vice President, Conservation Programs
Sarah Barmeyer is senior managing director for NPCA’s Conservation Programs where she coordinates priority initiatives for water restoration, landscape conservation, wildlife, and clean air.