Appearing at a morning press conference on Wednesday, August 28, in downtown Fort Myers, fittingly along the city’s Caloosahatchee River waterfront, Gov. Rick Scott announced a $90 million pledge from the state to help minimize the region’s water troubles.
With funds coming from Florida’s Department of Transportation budget, the money will be used to construct a 2.6 mile-long bridge in western Miami-Dade County, replacing a current stretch of the Tamiami Trail.
The project is estimated to cost $180 million and the federal government will match dollar-for-dollar the state’s annual contribution of $30 million for three years.
Constructed in 1928, the well-known road is otherwise known as U.S. Highway 41, and connects the cities of Tampa and Miami. The specific part in question is a remote section of highway running south and east from Naples, which traverses some of the most barren lands in the state.
Except for a few Seminole Indian developments, the region may be uninhabited, but is ecologically rich and capable of impacting surrounding parts of South Florida.
The 100-mile stretch runs through the heart of the Everglades and has devastatingly prevented the “river of grass” from flowing naturally into Florida Bay for nearly a century.
Given this limitation, combined with a desire to prevent flooding of farmlands in central Florida, when summer rain raises the level of Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps of Engineers must release fresh water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.
Receiving hundreds of billions of gallons of added water every rainy season, estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean are proving incapable of handling the massive discharges without significant environmental consequences.
Brown water, elevated bacteria level, algae blooms, and fish kills are some of the side-effects experienced along both coasts. Leaders are not only concerned about the present impact of the state’s water policy, but also worried such quality-of-life costs could damage Florida’s critical tourism industry.
In March, a similar mile-long bridge was opened along the Tamiami Trail to enable the waters of a section of the Everglades to resume its natural southward flow.
The pathway over the Shark River Slough cost $81 million to complete over four years and has already received considerable praise from environmental groups.
It is hoped that the new 2.6 mile bridge will allow 210,000 acre feet of water to be re-directed. This will allow more water to flow south from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades.
And that change could reduce the quantity of fresh-water discharges into the Caloosahatchee, something citizens of Southwest Florida have desired for decades.
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