Nov. 8, 2018
Miami, FL – The South Florida Water Management District's (SFWMD) Governing Board directed staff today to move ahead and expedite the proposed Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir project. A staff presentation identified that the District will solicit contractors to begin work on the reservoir project site south of Lake Okeechobee. The Governing Board also voted to fulfill a requirement of state law by coming to terms on an expiring lease on land slated for the reservoir, ensuring the project's footprint will be available for construction upon completion of design.
"This Governing Board is in agreement that a year like 2018 was a travesty for South Florida waterways. Directing staff to take the next steps to prepare the project site puts us one step closer to providing relief for the northern estuaries and sending additional clean water to the Everglades once federal funding is secured," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Federico Fernandez. "I have read comments in the press that all parties would like to see work begin on the EAA Reservoir in March 2019. With this vote, our Board is saying why wait until then? Let's begin the process now."
The Florida Legislature authorized the reservoir through the passage of Senate Bill 10 in 2017 as a partnership with the federal government. The Florida Legislature has committed to funding the state's half of the estimated $1.6 billion cost. The U.S. Congress authorized the project last month, but Florida is still waiting for the federal government to commit to funding its share of the project cost.
To continue to move ahead and eliminate possible delays, SFWMD is starting the site preparation process to ensure the reservoir becomes a reality as quickly as possible. SFWMD's Governing Board directed staff to pursue hiring a contractor to move more than 800,000 cubic yards of rock from the adjacent A-1 site to the site of the proposed reservoir and stage it on approximately 560 acres. Similar to the District's approach on the C-43 Reservoir, this staging of materials to speed up the eventual construction would aid in reducing the overall construction time frame.
The Governing Board directed staff to expedite this part of the process and utilize the 560 acres by restructuring a lease on land that will be utilized for the reservoir. According to Florida law, if there is an expiring lease on land owned or controlled by the state or SFWMD which has been identified as being necessary for the reservoir project, entities "shall execute, renegotiate, extend, or amend agreements, including reasonable notice and termination provisions, so that the land does not sit fallow and provides the maximum public benefit." The bill further states, "Any such agreements shall provide that agricultural operators shall be permitted to continue to farm on a field-by-field basis until such time as the agricultural operations are incompatible with site preparation, on-site investigation, or construction for an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project."
To fulfill this requirement of state law, the Governing Board negotiated an eight-year lease on about 16,500 acres currently being leased within the project's footprint. This new agreement allows the District to terminate the lease on any part of land to begin quarrying efforts needed to construct the project's levees.
The Governing Board also directed staff to move forward with geotechnical work on the site. This is necessary for finalizing the project design by drilling, soil sampling and testing the foundation materials around the proposed reservoir's 17.6-mile perimeter.
While SFWMD is working to expedite the project, actions raised by other agencies as well as an ongoing lawsuit by environmentalists over state restoration funding could delay the project. SFWMD General Counsel Brian Accardo gave the Governing Board a presentation about how the District's actions are consistent with state law and what actions are being taken to expedite the reservoir process, as well as some of the potential issues outside of the District's control that could cause delays. That presentation can be seen by clicking HERE.