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.
Scott quickly thanked the president in a tweet. 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.
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.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers since 2001 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.
Treasure Coast residents blame polluted water releases from Lake Okeechobee for algae outbreaks in surrounding waterways.
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.
by Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Images: (top right) US Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
With a cofferdam in place (foreground), crews work to excavate material from Herbert Hoover Dike at the Culvert 8 work site near the city of Okeechobee. Culvert 8 is one of 28 water control structures the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is replacing as part of its efforts to rehabilitate the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.
(bottom left and right) Other water control structures the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is replacing of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.