White House Says It Will Expedite Funding For Lake O Dike Repairs

Oct 27, 2017

With the White House pointing to ties between President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott, repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee might be done more quickly than anticipated.

Trump on Thursday directed Mick Mulvaney, the chief of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to accelerate the work.

“The administration, working closely with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, will now plan to expedite work at the project,” the White House said in a news release late Thursday.

The news release didn't outline costs or timelines for the work, which is intended to allow the lake to retain more water without causing a threat to surrounding communities.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said that for dike repairs to be accelerated, they would need federal funding of more than $200 million per year for four consecutive years. Historically the Army Corps has received between $50 million and $150 million per year for the project, according to spokesman John Campbell.

Trump previously set aside $82 million for the work in his proposed 2018 budget.

The remaining work has been projected to cost up to $930 million.

Read more: Glades Residents Afraid Lake Okeechobee Dam Could Fail As Water Reaches Above 17 Feet

Following Hurricane Irma, Gov. Scott had called for a rush of federal funding to address concerns about erosion in the aging dike. Rains from the hurricane caused the lake to rise above 17 feet, the highest it's been since Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

After the White House's announcement, Scott thanked the president in a series of tweets.

"Since taking office it's been one of my top priorities to protect FL families & environment by getting this critical project completed," he wrote. "I want to thank President Trump for prioritizing these repairs and protecting Florida’s environment for our future generations."

Since 2001, the Army Corps has spent more than $870 million on projects designed to reduce the risk of “catastrophic failure” to the aging 143-mile earthen dam that also features levees, hurricane gates and other water-control structures, according to the Army Corps.

The Legislature included $50 million in this year's Florida budget to help speed the Army Corps repairs.

State lawmakers also approved an $800 million plan spearheaded by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to start work on a reservoir south of the lake.

The Senate plan --- which depends on federal matching funds --- allows Florida to bond the money as a way to speed the reservoir's construction. The intent is to move water south from the lake, rather than to the east and west when the lake's water level gets too high.

Residents of Florida's coasts blame releases of phosphorus-contaminated water from Lake Okeechobee for worsening algae outbreaks in surrounding waterways. A massive bloom in the summer of 2016 devastated coastal tourism and fishing.

The White House announcement said the dike work “is still more than a decade away from completion.”

Scott has pushed to move up the completion by 2022.

“This April, Gov. Rick Scott spoke with President Donald Trump regarding the importance of fixing the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike,” the governor's office said late Thursday. “Following their conversation, President Trump committed to fixing the dike.”

The ongoing repair work started in 2007, according to the White House release.

“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 in the White House release.

WLRN staff reporter Kate Stein contributed to this report.