In a recent letter to the editor, Councilor Wayne Waldack said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, awarded an $81 million construction contract to Kiewit Southern Co. of Sunrise, Florida for the replacement of one mile of Tamiami Trail with a bridge and the raising of an additional 9.7 miles of that road so as to restore critical water flow, now blocked by sections of the road, into Everglades National Park.
Clearly this is a commendable project and fully in line with the wider Everglades Restoration effort. The problem posed by road obstruction is not unique to the Everglades area. We have a similar situation here on Marco Island, albeit at a much smaller scale. Specifically, following construction of S.R. 92 (San Marco Road), the eastern section roadbed and its easement interrupted the normal flow of water and created unfavorable conditions for the healthy development of large sections of mangrove forest. The result was the initiation of a massive mangrove die-off that has been steadily expanding.
On the south side of San Marco Road the die-off begins near the Vintage Bay development, continues north of Key Marco and then on to points east. Though extensive, this part is invisible from the road but can be clearly observed from within these properties. On the north side, it is most evident from Steven’s Landing on to practically the Goodland borderline. Here, the puzzling recent large-scale removal of most of the healthy plants on the road easement and its vicinity exposed the hitherto screened die-off in a most jolting and sadly grotesque way.
As a rule, in the affected areas the landscape has the parched, scarred appearance of the surface of a science-fiction planet dotted with black trunks of branchless trees jutting improbably out of the deeply pockmarked ground. One has to observe it up close to appreciate the magnitude of the devastation.
Apart from the visual, and sometimes olfactory, unpleasantness imparted to the observer, the phenomenon represents an environmental disaster. The problem has been known to state, county, and local environmentalists for a long time but no agreed upon solutions have been forthcoming. Inland aquatic environments in this state are being disrupted continuously under the relentless impact of urban development. However, it is difficult to imagine a particular predicament comparable in severity with what we are facing here, a situation which, left untreated, will likely continue to spread with unpredictable consequences.
Now, however, with the Tamiami Trail Bridge and Roadbed Raising project a reality, we have a perfect opportunity to bring our case to the official attention of the state. It can be argued that our die-off areas are extensions of the Everglades ecosystem and as such merit restoration, and funding of proportional magnitude. It has been proposed that repairing and replacing the system of culverts, supposedly originally constructed under San Marco Road for the purpose of maintaining normal water flow, would solve the problem. This may well turn out to be the case. However, ecosystems are dynamic entities with feedback mechanisms, constantly evolving and likely to undergo unforeseen overlays of change over time. Therefore a prudent approach toward a long term solution should begin with an in-depth professional evaluation, the outcome of which should dictate a course of effective corrective action.
Mr. Waldack’s reporting is a wake up call and opens the door to a unique opportunity. We should take full advantage of it.
Dr. Gerry Tsandoulas