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    Minorities sought for Everglades plan

    An outreach program has been developed to involve a broad range of people in the restoration program.

    ©Associated Press
    January 2, 2002

    FORT LAUDERDALE -Everglades restoration officials say they are seeking ideas from minorities to help shape the plan and be part of its extensive projects.

    The goal is to get blacks, Hispanics, Indian tribes and residents of poor farming towns to be involved in the decades-long recovery, realize its benefits and receive a fair share of contracts, say government officials, lawmakers and environmentalists.

    "It's important to give ownership in this project to everybody," said Shannon Estenoz of the World Wildlife Fund.

    "It's about building a broad base of support, so you don't have one community or another feeling like they've been left behind."

    The group is among a 41-member Everglades Coalition that will meet Thursday to Sunday in Fort Lauderdale for its 17th annual conference.

    A key issue at the meeting will be environmentalists' concerns that a recent federal draft of rules for the restoration isn't strong enough because it lacks deadlines.

    The 2000 legislation that approved funding to repair the Everglades also calls for the South Florida Water Management District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to involve minorities in the process.

    The agencies have developed an economic equity program and an outreach plan that includes an $11-million budget for the next five years. Also, officials want at least half the water district's projects to go to minority and women-owned businesses.

    But urban support also is important. As restoration sweeps up undeveloped land in western Palm Beach and Broward counties, that could increase pressure for redevelopment in low-income neighborhoods with less political clout along the congested east coast.

    Community activist Cynthia Laramore said she is skeptical of the minority outreach.

    "They are trying to sell a project, and they'll do anything to sell it," said Laramore, with Active Citizens Together Improving Our Neighborhoods.

    The project will generate up to 450 jobs over the next several years and peak at more than 4,000 positions about 2018, said Bonnie Kranzer, a water district program manager.

    The work is especially crucial for rural Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, lakeside towns which will likely lose agriculture jobs as farm land is converted to wetlands to store and clean water.

    The Everglades Restoration Consortium, a group of educational, business and government representatives, is working to ensure minority and women-owned businesses get a fair shot at restoration contracts.

    "The consortium is there to make sure the government agencies are absolutely going to follow through and have a procurement process that includes minorities," said state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, who spearheaded the group.

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