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Army Corps Begins Planning Project To Fix Biscayne Bay And Coastal Wetlands

The latest Everglades Restoration project will focus on coastal wetlands and Biscayne Bay.
South Florida Water Management District
The latest Everglades Restoration project will focus on coastal wetlands and Biscayne Bay.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on its latest Everglades Restoration project that aims to help fix worsening conditions in Biscayne Bay.

The U.S.Army Corps of Engineers has begun planning its next Everglades project aimed at fixing troubled Biscayne Bay.

During a planning meeting Wednesday, Corps officials said the latest effort focuses on restoring coastal wetlands and water flow to parts of the bay cut off by decades of flood control.

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Just last month, the Corps finalized a new operational plan that dramatically increases the amount of water flowing under two new bridges across the Tamiami Trail, which damned up water north of the old road.

“We're trying to take that available water and improve the quantity, quality, time and distribution of that water in the areas it’s most needed,” said Eric Summa, the environmental branch chief for the Corps’ Jacksonville district.

The project will have four primary goals, said Corps ecologist Brad Foster including: reviving the parched freshwater coastal wetlands and Southern Glades; restoring nearshore areas in Biscayne Bay, including the national park, Card Sound, Barnes Sound and Manatee Bay; and connecting areas now blocked by roads and other obstacles. These include a mix of freshwater wetlands and saltwater seagrass meadows increasingly threatened by sea rise and pollution.

The Corps also wants to make the area more resilient to sea rise, which has already caused some mangroves to begin migrating inland.

The new Everglades project focuses on improving water conditions in Biscayne Bay and restoring coastal wetlands.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The new Everglades project focuses on improving water conditions in Biscayne Bay and restoring coastal wetlands.

Last year, as problems in Biscayne Bay worsened, the South Florida Water Management District asked the Corps to merge two existing plans. They included the stalled second phase of work to restore the bay’s coastal wetlands and fixes to the old C-111 aerojet canaldredged in the 1960s to barge rocket engines to Cape Canaveral.

The project will also aim to balance moving water, a tricky prospect with South Florida’s porous limestone. Groundwater naturally flows to the southeast. That’s limited the amount of water the Corps can move into Taylor Slough and drawn criticism.

The slough runs along the eastern edge of Everglades National Park and dumps into Florida Bay, where too little freshwater has allowed mangroves to march inland and weakened seagrass beds.

In moving water around for this project, the agency will need to maintain flood control for farms and other developed areas.

For this project, Foster said the Corps can’t borrow any water moving into Everglades National Park to refresh coastal areas. To find the water, the Corps enlarged the project footprint to extend to the northern end of Miami-Dade County and may consider moving water from the north through canals. The agency may also create storage areas.

At Wednesday’s meeting, commenters raised concerns about water quality.

“We all know by now that the Biscayne Bay watershed is in a state of emergency. It’s at a tipping point for irreversible ecological collapse,” said Irela Bague, who chaired Miami-Dade County’s Biscayne Bay Task Force and helped author a report calling for tighter pollution controls. “If we're going to be introducing water, it's got to be clean.”

Environmentalists also want to be sure the Corps focuses on restoring natural features rather than constructing new infrastructure.

“Are we looking at natural bay features like mangrove plantings and marshes? Are we looking at coral restoration,” said Daniel Ochoa, an urban planner with the Ocean Conservancy. “Because I think it's valuable to not cause damage to what we're trying to protect.”

There were also concerns about combining the two projects.

“We still have some outstanding questions about why the decision was made to merge the projects,” said Caroline McLaughlin, an associate director of the National Parks Conservaton Association. “What we don't want to see happen is to have a final project that includes a scaled down version of several individual components.”

The Corps expects to take three years to develop a plan to send to Congress for approval. The Corps is taking public comment through Oct. 2, which can be emailed to BBSEERcomments@usace.army.mil

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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