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Corps Blamed for Shoddy Everglades Work

posted on September 14, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A major Everglades restoration project is stalled because of shoddy work managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a reservoir that could threaten an interstate and nearby communities if levee walls failed, state officials said Wednesday. Although the corps hired an outside contractor to do the work, the agency "was ultimately responsible," said George Horne, deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. "If it were filled to capacity and it were to rupture, you would certainly flood" Interstate 95 and surrounding communities, Horne said. The Ten Mile Creek reservoir, about 130 miles north of Miami, needs about $13 million for repairs to fix leakage in levee walls and embankments, parts of which are already crumbling, among other problems, he said. The project is intended to help restore natural flow to the Everglades ecosystem. Construction was completed last year, but the district has been able to fill the reservoir with only about 684 million gallons — 38 percent of the intended 1.8 billion gallon capacity — because of safety concerns. The project also does not meet new safety requirements developed after Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed New Orleans' levee system, Horne said. "It does not and cannot operate as intended," he said. It was initially a $27 million project, including state and federal funds, but eventually climbed to about $35 million. With the needed repairs, the total project will now cost about $48 million, Horne said. Alan Bugg, chief of construction and operations for the corps' Jacksonville office, assured water district board members the problems would be fixed. "Public safety is our No. 1 priority," Bugg said. "Shame on us," Bugg repeatedly said for failing to provide the district with information on the problems and a timetable for repairs. The 550-acre reservoir is supposed to be storing stormwater runoff to keep deluges from flowing into the Indian River Lagoon, part of the overall Everglades ecosystem and one of the most biologically diverse estuaries in North America. A water district subcommittee on Wednesday recommended giving the reservoir back to the corps to fix the problems. Corps spokeswoman Nanciann Regalado said the agency would decide how to move forward with repairs.

Tags: army conservation engineers Florida news