$200 million coming for Everglades restoration

A new state law committing a portion of Amendment 1 money to Everglades restoration became official Thursday.

The Legacy Florida Act allocates $200 million annually toward Everglades restoration projects that can increase freshwater flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

"It's a great way to honor Marjory Stoneman Douglas on her birthday," said Cara Capp, Everglades specialist for the National Parks Conservation Association.

"It means we will have $200 million in state funding for Everglades restoration to send the water south where it needs to be," she said.

April 7 is recognized as Everglades Day on Stoneman Douglas' birthday to celebrate her early concern for the globally unique Everglades system.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the Legacy Act, an outgrowth of state voters' overwhelming support to create a dedicated environmental fund. The money is to be earmarked for 20 years.

State legislators drew extensive criticism in 2015 for using only a relatively small portion of more than $740 million that came into Amendment 1 coffers from taxes on real-estate transactions. Voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 1 to the state Constitution in 2014.

Other Legacy Florida money will go toward preserving the state's freshwater springs and cleaning up the devastated Lake Apopka in Central Florida.

"The Everglades is an economic engine for this state and a sound investment," said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation. "Restoration projects create jobs and protect the water supply for one in three Floridians."

New Tamiami Trail bridge to increase water flow

Another encouraging step toward restoring Florida Bay water flow will be marked on Earth Day, April 22, on the Tamiami Trail.

A ceremonial groundbreaking on U.S. 41 east of Naples will mark a contract signing for a new 2.6-mile bridge that will let more water flow to the southern Everglades and Florida Bay.

A one-mile bridge built on Tamiami Trail in western Miami-Dade County has greatly increased flows, conservationists say, but serves as "a good first step." It was dedicated in 2013 and cost $81 million.

Currently, much of that water through the existing span must be directed too far to the east with not enough freshwater reaching the western portions.    

"We're seeing progress on measures needed to help the Everglades, Florida Bay and the estuaries," Capp said.

Start of actual construction on the new bridge is uncertain, pending allocations in the federal budget.

Overall, the Everglades restoration now includes about 68 separate and costly projects, which have pushed estimates of the overall cost to more than $13 billion.

This was supplemented with information from the Miami Herald.