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Everglades project moves forward

A Senate committee agrees the federal government should give money toward the restoration.

By VANITA GOWDA

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


WASHINGTON -- Sweeping legislation to restore the Everglades cleared its first congressional hurdle Wednesday, winning near unanimous approval from a Senate committee.

The plan would spend $1.4-billion and set in motion a process that is expected to cost $7.8-billion over more than 30 years.

"We are one step closer to saving this world treasure for future generations," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla. Graham and Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., were among the sponsors of the legislation.

Although the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved the bill, some committee members expressed reservations about the legislation's cost and broad scope. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., was the lone opposing vote.

Committee member Sen. John Warner, R-Va., called the bill a "giant, sucking machine" of federal funds.

Florida has pledged $4-billion in state and local tax money. The rest would come from the federal government.

The committee vote came more than one year after the Clinton administration presented its plan to save the "River of Grass." The Senate bill, introduced Tuesday, was bogged down by disagreements over what to do with the water produced by restoration efforts and to what extent the federal government will be involved.

The bill would remove levees and canals, inject water underground for later use, turn some farms and limestone quarries into large reservoirs, and raise the Tamiami Trail to allow for the natural flow of water.

Federal and state officials and environmental groups have been feuding over who will decide what to do with the more than 1-billion gallons of water a day that will be produced by the restoration.

Environmental groups want the Everglades to have first priority to receive the additional water. State officials and business leaders, however, want an equal shot at the water for South Florida's burgeoning population.

State officials complained in the past that the administration's plan gave the federal government too much control over water distribution. Graham and Mack said that the Senate bill guarantees that state, rather than federal, water law will be used to determine water distribution.

In addition to water distribution disagreements, there may be a fight over a proposal by Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, that would require several federal agencies and state officials to conduct further studies into a proposed airport at Homestead Air Force Base. Voinovich said that a regional airport at Homestead was "inconsistent with what we are trying to accomplish in the Everglades."

Graham and Mack said that the Voinovich amendment would add an unnecessary step to ongoing efforts to approve Homestead redevelopment plans.

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