A meeting of the minds between Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may seem unlikely, but both sides deserve credit for hammering out a reasonable plan to finish the Everglades cleanup.
The $880 million agreement may be imperfect, but given the delays, funding shortfalls and litigation that have marked the effort to save the River of Grass, it represents a significant achievement.
Scott at first wanted to limit costs to $400 million while the feds pushed an aggressive cleanup strategy that would have cost well over $1 billion.
Both sides made concessions. Scott hung tough on ensuring that costs would not require any tax increase, but agreed to a more extensive plan. EPA pushed for tough water quality standards, but gave in to the state’s demand for more time to meet the standards.
The work, primarily the construction of additional stormwater treatment, will significantly filter the phosphorous that runs off agricultural lands and taints the Everglades.
Five stormwater treatment areas covering 57,000 acres will be developed for the vast, watery network that runs from Central Florida to Florida Bay.
The Everglades merits the investment. The system sustains South Florida’s water supply, filters water that flows into Florida Bay, and supports tourism and fishing.
An independent study a couple of years ago estimated restoring the Everglades would have a $4 return for every $1 spent, primarily because of its importance to Florida’s drinking water supply.
But a healthy Everglades also will increase tourism, boost the recreational and commercial fishing industries and even help the real estate market. Visitors to Everglades National Park alone spend about $165 million a year.
The construction work that will take place due to the Scott-EPA agreement is expected to create 1,500 direct jobs and should create 15,350 indirect jobs.
Restoration work in the last three years, The Miami Herald reports, has generated about 10,000 jobs.
The massive effort to repair the much abused and polluted Everglades was instigated by a 1988 lawsuit filed by a federal attorney that correctly accused the state of not enforcing the Clean Water Act.
The state and feds eventually resolved to work together, but there continued to be disagreements and funding lapses. The cleanup deadline was moved back from 2006 to 2016.
Now it is being moved back again, which some environmentalists find objectionable.
But a few more years, which helps the state curtail its costs, is not going to be the death of the Everglades.
The important thing is that there is agreement to execute the cleanup.
It’s still possible work could stall, expenses explode or commitments waver. But this compromise promises to bring momentum and certainty to the Everglades rescue effort.
Scott and the EPA deserve credit for working together to salvage a Florida treasure.