$232M proposed for Everglades restoration

WEST PALM BEACH — President Barack Obama's budget proposal released Monday includes $231.75 million for Everglades restoration projects.

Efforts led by the Army Corps of Engineers would receive about $161 million, slightly less than Obama's request of $168 million last year. But it's more than the $142 million Congress ultimately allocated.

Obama's request also includes nearly $70 million for Everglades projects through the Department of the Interior. That figure is down from the roughly $99 million appropriated in the 2012 budget, but roughly even when considering that spending included a $30 million one-time payment for a land acquisition.

Whether those proposals survive Congress, where Republicans in particular have been calling for additional budget cuts, remains to be seen. But some environmentalists see the requests as a positive sign considering the cuts Obama has already proposed.

Under the president's budget, the Interior Department would see a 2.1 percent drop in funding. The Corps of Engineers would have its budget cut by 29.9 percent.

Julie Hill-Gabriel, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, said to have funding requests roughly on par with last year even in the face of budget cuts speaks volumes.

"They're just making it even more clear that when they're asked to prioritize that this is one of their big priorities," she said.

Proponents of Everglades restoration have sought to show that such projects bring jobs to South Florida, particularly in the construction industry, which has been hard hit in the sagging economy. They also note such efforts are necessary to preserve the water supply for millions of Floridians.

The Everglades have been dying for decades from the intrusion of farms and development, cut by dikes, dams and canals, effectively draining much of the swamp and polluting it with fertilizers and urban runoff. The state and federal governments' efforts to restore the wetlands have been stymied for years by funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering.

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