Fresh off including a $215 million boost in Everglades restoration funding in his newest budget, President Obama sent another strong signal today that he's serious about saving the River of Grass by sending Interior Secretary Ken Salazar out for an afternoon airboat ride off Alligator Alley.
Half of Florida's political power base tagged along -- Gov. Charlie Crist, Rep. Kendrick Meek and Sen. Bill Nelson (Sen. Mel Martinez was supposed to attend but didn't show). Their message was unanimous: After another wasted decade, Everglades restoration is back on the map.
It was a great sentiment. Too bad no one thought to move the jaw-droppingly obscene Hummer parked right next to the presser. Riptide isn't sure who owns that beast -- we asked around and no one seemed to know. And, alas, Salazar didn't hop in and tear off down I-75 after the presser, spewing double tail-piped exhaust all over the Glades.
Read more about the conference after the jump. And check out the Miami New Times next week for a feature story on the people who stand out to lose in the latest, re-energized round of restoration, from canal fishermen to sugar workers in South Bay and Pahokee.
Before they hopped on airboats to buzz around the muck, Salazar, Crist, Meek and Nelson listened to a briefing on invasive species in the park. When they roared back into the parking lot near mile marker 41 on Alligator Alley, Salazar said that Obama's Everglades funding marks a new era in restoration.
"President Obama is really committed to making sure we move forward to do
anything we can to restore Everglades," he said. "You've seen that already with
the several hundred million we've committed to Everglades restoration."
He's right that it's a start. A National Research Council report to Congress last year found that the Army Corps of Engineers had completed exactly zero of the 68 projects at the heart of President Clinton's plan to save the Glades, and that costs had grown from $7.8 billion to $10.9 billion.
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The report singled out the feds for not keeping their half of the bargain and failing to pay for projects on time. Nelson in particular praised Obama's funding boost.
"We've got it turned around this year," he said. "I have to thank the secretary and the administration for taking restoration seriously."
The funding will help. Now, about that Hummer ...