House OKs Everglades Restoration

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Thursday approved the initial investment in one of the largest environmental restoration projects in the nation's history, a 36-year, $7.8 billion effort to rescue the Florida Everglades.

The legislation is a rare confluence of political and economic forces, supported by environmentalists and the sugar industry, the White House and Congress, presidential nominees Al Gore and George W. Bush and Bush's brother, Florida's Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

It authorizes a down payment of $1.4 billion for restoration of the Everglades, the 300-mile ``River of Grass'' that is one of America's greatest but most imperiled natural resources.

The project, said Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., ``represents the largest, most comprehensive environmental restoration ever attempted.'' It will reverse years of neglect that have ``brought the Florida Everglades to the brink of disaster.''

The House passed the bill, part of comprehensive legislation approving Army Corps of Engineers water projects, by 394-14. It now goes to a House-Senate conference that must iron out differences on non-Everglades elements in the package in the final days of this session of Congress. The Senate passed its version last month by 85-1.

The federal government in 1949 established Everglades National Park to protect the southern portion of the Everglades and Florida Bay from development.

But that same year Congress directed the Corps of Engineers to build a system of canals, levees and pumping systems to decrease the risk of flooding and open land for farming and new homes.

Today half of the Everglades is gone and 1.7 billion gallons of water a day is directed out to sea. Some 5.5 million people now live in south Florida.

The Sierra Club said overdevelopment and pollution from local sugar farms has put at further risk 14 federally listed endangered species in the Everglades, including the wood stork, the West Indian manatee and the American crocodile.

The bill, said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Transportation water resources panel, ``is our best hope to save the Everglades, to protect the egrets and alligators and to restore the balance between the human environment and the natural system in south Florida.''

It ``truly is landmark,'' said Jim Lyon, legislative director for the National Wildlife Federation. The legislation not only saves one of the nation's crown jewels, he said, but it is ``a promising new beginning for the Corps of Engineers, moving them out of a mission of damaging the environment to one of restoration.''

Florida's senators, Democrat Bob Graham and Republican Connie Mack, said the plan approves 10 construction projects and four pilot projects designed to restore the natural sheet flow that years of human interference has interrupted.

Half the $7.8 billion project would be paid for by the federal government and the other half by the state of Florida.

The water resources bill with the Everglades provision authorizes several dozen flood control, waterway navigation and environmental restoration programs, including $25 million to clean up a polluted aquifer in California's San Gabriel basin.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a fiscal conservative, voted against the bill because, he said, it had become a ``feeding frenzy'' for lawmakers trying to attach their pet projects, raising the cost of the entire bill from $2 billion to $6 billion.

He said it also failed to adequately address needed reforms for the Corps of Engineers, which he said had become ``nothing more than a water boy for the U.S. Congress.''


The bill is H.R. 2796.

On the Net: Sierra Club:

National Wildlife Federation: