NAPLES — The bulldozers are set to crank up in early 2011 for the next phase of the restoration of Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $79 million contract to build the largest of the three pumps — all about the size of a chain drug store and four stories tall — that will harness water flowing down canals through Golden Gate Estates north of Interstate 75 and into the Picayune.
The project, part of the larger Everglades restoration plan, calls for tearing out more than 200 miles of roads, plugging canals and returning natural water flows to some 55,000 acres south of Interstate 75 once planned for a huge subdivision.
The new contract puts more momentum behind a project that has survived fits and starts for four decades and still has its critics.
“It’s huge that we’re moving forward with construction and already seeing progress being made,” said Capt. Erica Lager, the Picayune project manager.
Work began earlier this year on a $53 million project to build the Merritt Canal pump station, which will have a capacity of 800 cubic feet per second.
The new contract will pay for work on the Faka Union Canal pump station, which will have a capacity of 2,630 cubic feet per second. A groundbreaking is set for late February.
The Merritt Canal station is expected to take until 2012 to complete, and the Faka Union project is scheduled to take until 2014.
A third pump is planned for the Miller Canal, but it has yet to be funded.
The entire Picayune Strand project won’t be finished until 2018, according to current timetables.
The money for the Merritt Canal represented the first infusion of federal money for a 2000 state-federal plan to restore the Everglades.
As the Picayune project languished, the South Florida Water Management District moved ahead on its own to plug seven miles of the Prairie Canal on the project’s eastern edge and remove 200 miles of roads. That work was completed in 2006.
In the 1980s, the state of Florida began a buyout of thousands of lots sold around the world by the original developer.
It took decades to complete and eventually cost $250 million, including money from the federal government.
Environmental groups applaud the restoration, but others say it is misguided.
Opponents distrust claims of the restoration’s benefits and object to a loss of public access.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats