$53 million for Picayune Strand is first federal money for Everglades restoration

— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $53 million contract to restart an Everglades restoration project in eastern Collier County.

Jacksonville-based Harry Pepper & Associates will build a pump station on the Merritt Canal, plug 14 miles of canals and remove 95 miles of roads in the Picayune Strand between Interstate 75 and U.S. 41 East.

A groundbreaking ceremony is set for early January, according to the Corps of Engineers.

“This is a huge advance for Everglades restoration,” the Corps’ District Commander Col. Al Patano said in a written statement.

Gov. Charlie Crist and state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole quickly issued their own statements lauding the infusion of federal dollars.

The Picayune Strand contract marks the first time federal money is being put into what was to be a 50-50 state-federal partnership for Everglades restoration that dates to 2000.

A lack of federal money has been a sore point with the state of Florida, which moved forward by itself on the first phase of Picayune Strand restoration six years ago. The project has been stalled since then.

This summer, negotiators worked out a deal on how the costs of Everglades restoration would be divvied up between Florida and the federal government under the 50-50 partnership.

The deal cleared the way for the federal money for Picayune Strand project, including $41 million in stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Merritt Canal pump station is the first of three planned south of I-75 to capture water flowing down Merritt, Faka Union and Miller canals and spread it across 55,000 acres where developers once dreamed of carving a huge subdivision out of the wilderness.

In the 1980s, Florida land buyers began a massive buyout of landowners who had bought thousands of lots in Southern Golden Gate Estates.

The buyout eventually cost $250 million, according to the Corps of Engineers.

Including land costs, the restoration project is estimated to cost $438 million.

The Corps plans to award two more contracts to “virtually complete” the restoration of Picayune Strand, Patano said in the statement.

The Merritt Canal contract is expected to take two years to finish and, at its peak, use 250-300 workers, Harry Pepper & Associates senior project manager Clyde McCutcheon said.

About 60 percent of those employees will be subcontractors from around South Florida, but it is uncertain how many people in Southwest Florida might be hired for the work, he said.

“That will be one of the focuses of the project, to keep local dollars local,” he said.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $53 million contract to restart an Everglades restoration project in eastern Collier County.

Jacksonville-based Harry Pepper & Associates will build a pump station on the Merritt Canal, plug 14 miles of canals and remove 95 miles of roads in the Picayune Strand between Interstate 75 and U.S. 41 East.

A groundbreaking ceremony is set for early January, according to the Corps of Engineers.

“This is a huge advance for Everglades restoration,” the Corps’ District Commander Col. Al Patano said in a written statement.

Gov. Charlie Crist and state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole quickly issued their own statements lauding the infusion of federal dollars.

The Picayune Strand contract marks the first time federal money is being put into what was to be a 50-50 state-federal partnership for Everglades restoration that dates to 2000.

A lack of federal money has been a sore point with the state of Florida, which moved forward by itself on the first phase of Picayune Strand restoration six years ago. The project has been stalled since then.

This summer, negotiators worked out a deal on how the costs of Everglades restoration would be divvied up between Florida and the federal government under the 50-50 partnership.

The deal cleared the way for the federal money for Picayune Strand project, including $41 million in stimulus money through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Merritt Canal pump station is the first of three planned south of I-75 to capture water flowing down Merritt, Faka Union and Miller canals and spread it across 55,000 acres where developers once dreamed of carving a huge subdivision out of the wilderness.

In the 1980s, Florida land buyers began a massive buyout of landowners who had bought thousands of lots in Southern Golden Gate Estates.

The buyout eventually cost $250 million, according to the Corps of Engineers.

Including land costs, the restoration project is estimated to cost $438 million.

The Corps plans to award two more contracts to “virtually complete” the restoration of Picayune Strand, Patano said in the statement.

The Merritt Canal contract is expected to take two years to finish and, at its peak, use 250-300 workers, Harry Pepper & Associates senior project manager Clyde McCutcheon said.

About 60 percent of those employees will be subcontractors from around South Florida, but it is uncertain how many people in Southwest Florida might be hired for the work, he said.

“That will be one of the focuses of the project, to keep local dollars local,” he said.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/

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