Water is released from Lake Okeechobee in anticipation of the arrival of Hurricane Irma. LEAH VOSS/TCPALM
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Rick Scott announced a plan Monday to put another $50 million in state money toward repairs to the crumbling, federally managed dike along the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee.
Scott made his announcement after President Donald Trump agreed last week to speed up repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The deteriorating condition of the large, grassy berms forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct frequent freshwater discharges that ruined delicate estuaries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
“These repairs are a priority and that’s why I’m proposing $50 million in state funding to help expedite the project," Scott wrote in a statement. "I look forward to working with the Florida Legislature on this important project so we can protect our pristine environment for our future generations.”
On Monday the level of the lake was at 17.05 feet, well over the maximum 15.5 feet the Corps of Engineers has deemed safe with the weakened dike.
Scott and the Legislature had approved $50 million in this year's $83 billion state budget to speed up the federal repair project that began in 2001 and was expected to take about 25 years. If lawmakers go along with Scott's plan, that state will invest $100 million toward repairs.
A January Corps of Engineers report shows the agency had already spent $870 million on repairs, and another $800 million would be needed for completion. Some of the 143 miles of earthen barriers have eroded over the years, and work includes replacing them with a more durable concrete-like substance, the report states.
The corps previously hoped the project would be done by 2025, but Trump's order should speed up that process. With the weakened dike, the agency controls lake levels by discharging polluted freshwater into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The water badly damages saltwater estuaries along the coasts.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district includes stretches of the Atlantic coast that are affected by the discharges, said his chamber will consider adding the additional $50 million to next year's budget.
Perhaps the biggest achievement for Negron during the 2017 legislative session was Scott's approval of SB 10, which calls for the construction of a $1.7 billion reservoir to digest the lake water and decrease discharges.
“I appreciate Gov. Scott’s leadership in ensuring that we make the best use of both state and federal tax dollars as we work to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike and build additional southern storage through the implementation of SB 10," Negron said. "I look forward to working with him again this session on these important issues to ensure we have an effective state and federal partnership that leads to the elimination of harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”
The $50 million Scott proposed is included in the $1.7 billion plan he announced last week to restore the Everglades, freshwater springs and beaches.