Feds Pump $1 Million More into Tamiami Trail Planning

WASHINGTON, DC, December 12, 2008 (ENS) - The National Park Service will provide $1 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the next course of action needed along the Tamiami Trail to restore water flows to Everglades National Park, federal officials announced today.

Completed in 1928, the Tamiami (pronounced tamee-amee) Trail is not really a trail but a road connecting Tampa with Miami - the last 275 miles of highway US 41.

Tamiami Trail crosses Shark River Slough, the most important conveyance of water into the southern Everglades. For the past 80 years, the road has caused the giant wetland that is Everglades National Park to be cut off from its main source of freshwater from the north.

North of the Trail, water has backed up, causing those lands to drown under too much water. In the south, the health of the Everglades is declining from lack of fresh water.

After years of studies and evaluations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided in 2005 to build two bridges that would allow water to pass under them to the Everglades. But the high cost of this plan prompted a re-evaluation this summer that settled on a single one-mile long bridge.

In November, a federal judge called a halt to the bridge plan. U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Miccosukee Tribe to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from starting construction of the bridge.

The judge found that the Corps did not carry out analysis of all the alternatives as required under environmental laws.

She agreed with tribal arguments that building the bridge would not improve flows until other projects are built. Those projects are intended to control flooding in western Miami-Dade County suburbs that may occur with higher water levels restored to the Everglades.

The Everglades Skyway Coalition, a group of community, business and environmental organizations and local governments, is advocating for an 11 mile elevated highway, or Skyway across Shark River Slough. The coalition says that by elevating the road, "all barriers to a natural water flow will be removed, and fish and other wildlife will be able to freely cross the landscape."

Supporters of the Skyway include the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Friends of the Everglades, among many others.

The Miccosukee Tribe neither supports the Skyway Project nor any other alternatives which propose the construction of bridges on the Tamiami Trail prior to the completion of all four components of the Modified Water Delivery plan for the Everglades.

The tribe says consequences of building the Skyway include delay in the restoration of the Everglades. The tribe cites a report produced by the Office of Inspector General that found for each year of delay, the Tribal Everglades is losing 8.4 tree islands or 246 acres of lan.

Today's million dollar award to the Corps is intended to be spent determining what to do next in view of the judge's ruling.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said, "The Department of the Interior remains fully committed to sustaining support of the Everglades restoration effort. Today's important step forward represents a major opportunity to chart a course for a project that is not only pivotal to restoration of Everglades National Park's ecosystem, but fundamental to restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem."

The million dollar check was presented to the Corps today at a ceremony at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said at the ceremony, "These past 20 years, many Everglades restoration partners have purchased land, undertaken projects and improved land management. Yet restoration as we all envision it, still lies off on the horizon. Today, we take one more step along our restoration journey."

Restoration of water flow into Everglades National Park has been and remains the highest priority for the park's ecologic health, said Scarlett. The Tamiami Trail will continue as a major constraint to restoring the Everglades and Florida Bay until substantial additional hydrological connectivity is established across the trail.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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