The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can hit the gas on Herbert Hoover Dike repairs.
President Donald Trump kept his promise to Gov. Rick Scott and the people of Florida by including in his fiscal 2019 budget expediting rehabilitation of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee and provides flood protection for South Florida.
The budget was passed and signed on Friday, but the announcement confirming specific items included didn't come until today.
Page 100 of the budget proposes "to accelerate repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike through an innovative partnership between the Federal Government and the State of Florida using a combination of appropriations from the Federal Government and the State of Florida."
The dike simply qualified. Trump wanted emphasis on investing in ongoing, rather than new construction projects, projects with "high economic or environmental returns while addressing public safety."
According to the budget language, "By proposing to not start any new construction projects, the budget enables the Corps to focus on completing these ongoing priority projects faster for less cost, allowing the affected communities to see their benefits sooner."
Herbert Hoover Dike is a 143-mile earthen dam that embraces Lake O, the heart of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades system. Its first embankments were constructed by local workers from sand and muck, about 1915. Hurricane tides overtopped the original embankments in 1926 and 1928, resulting in more than 2,500 deaths.
Scott secured a commitment from the president last year that the federal government would provide the necessary funding to speed repairs to the federally-operated dike.
Said Scott Monday in a written statement, “President Trump’s budget announcement today is great news for Florida and solidifies his commitment to me to secure the federal funding needed for critically important repairs to the federally-operated Herbert Hoover Dike.
"Last year, after my meeting with President Trump, he directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to accelerate this funding process, and I have had many follow-up meetings with Director Mick Mulvaney.
"At the state-level, we have already dedicated $50 million in state funding to repairs for the Dike and this session, I have recommended another $50 million in state funding to continue this important work. After years of fighting for the Herbert Hoover Dike, I am proud that Florida finally has a partner in Washington that is fighting hard for issues important to families in our state.”
J.P. Sasser, former Pahokee mayor and an activist in promoting issues important to Glades residents, said he is heartened by today's news. "I'm certainly encouraged. I just hope we'll see consistent funding, not just for this year, but until the job is done," he said.
Tammy Jackson-Moore, head of Guardians of the Glades, said after Hurricane Irma, the president's budget is headline news for residents who live around the lake. "We look at it as a big win," she explained. "We knew when we evacuated, Irma would really test the integrity of the dike. And every storm we get will be another test. I'm really thankful to our governor and president."
Last Oct. 26, the White House announced Trump had instructed Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney to prioritize the acceleration of the dike, identified by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 2000s to be at high risk of failure and in need of repairs to address significant dam safety and stability issues.
A major rehabilitation of the dike has been ongoing since 2007 and under the current trajectory -- had Trump failed to include the item -- completed repairs would have been more than a decade away. Under the new plan, the remaining work should take four years at a total cost of $800 million.
“This project is important to the state of Florida and we are honored to play a role in the funding, and now acceleration, of this essential infrastructure initiative,” Mulvaney said.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith