Judge not pleased with Florida in Everglades case

A federal judge on Friday expressed support for a new $1.5 billion federal plan to reduce Everglades pollution while raising concerns with Florida’s response to the proposal, according to the Associated Press.

United States District Judge Alan. S. Gold, who in April threatened the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with contempt of court over chronic water problems, on Friday told agency officials he will use his authority to help implement the new plan quickly. The Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe sued the federal government for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The EPA developed a $1.5 billion plan for clean up of water flowing into the Everglades. But South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Carol Wehle wrote a letter to the court in September saying her agency couldn’t afford the projects, citing declines in property tax revenue because of the real estate market.

According to an AP report, the judge said Friday that he was “not all that pleased” with Florida’s lukewarm response to the EPA proposal.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a plan to raise another 5.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail highway across the Everglades, where work now is underway on a one-mile bridge. Along with other restoration projects, the new bridge would allow an unconstrained flow of water to Northeast Shark Slough.

“If ultimately authorized and funded by Congress, this proposal will benefit the environment and economy of South Florida,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release. Everglades National Park officials and environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, also said they were pleased with the announcement.

Back in court on Friday, a top U.S. Justice Department official said EPA would press forward with its plan without delay, according to AP.

Parker Thomson, attorney for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the state mainly wants control over issuing the stricter discharge permits, which EPA could take over if they don’t meet certain standards. Thomson said Florida could do a better job regulating the farm discharges, but nothing happens immediately.

“We can do it, and we will do it,” Thomson said. “You can argue about the amount of time, but you can’t argue reality — it will take time.”

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting brucebritchie@gmail.com.)