When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Thursday it will spend $514 million to fast track repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, members of Florida’s Congressional delegation were quick to claim credit. Nothing out of the ordinary there. None, however, were as bold as Senator Bill Nelson, who took a victory lap at two separate events – though realistically his support likely didn’t convince the Army Corps to make the decision. Strategically placed in Belle Glade along the southern banks of Lake Okeechobee, Nelson announced to TV cameras that the Army Corp was increasing funding to finish the repairs.
This is huge news! The Army Corps just approved our request to speed up work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. Corps says it will set aside $514 million to finish the project by 2022 instead of 2025.
— Senator Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) July 5, 2018
In making the announcement in Belle Glade and Fort Myers, Nelson’s correctly calculated he’d get some credit. One West Palm Beach TV station in an online story said “he’s (Nelson) fast-tracking the project.” Not exactly.
As a member of the minority party and not sitting on any Senate budget committee, Nelson likely had very little influence on the decision.
Governor Rick Scott, who’s been working on the issue and has directly appealed to President Trump, called out Nelson for his johnny-come-lately approach to the Lake Okeechobee issue.
“Bill Nelson suddenly travels down from Washington when there is good news in order to score political points during an election year,” Governor Scott said via a statement released Thursday. “It’s a shame that Bill Nelson didn’t care to make Lake Okeechobee a priority, but in Florida, we don’t settle on waiting for Congress to get things done.”
Other members of Florida’s congressional delegation gave credit to the Army Corps.
“I’m proud that these projects, including full funding for expedited completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike, beach renourishment, and my South Atlantic Coastal Study, will not only provide flood protection and economic benefits, but will focus on improving our state’s resilience to help better withstand the next big storm,” said Senator Marco Rubio.
Representative Tom Rooney, who represents the area in Congress and sits on the House budget committee, has made the entire Okeechobee/Everglades water system one of his priorities since he was elected to Congress.
“Floridians have a unique understanding and appreciation for our waterways, and all of us in South Florida know how critical the dike is to our daily lives,” Rooney said. “Compelling the Army Corps to prioritize funding for the Herbert Hoover Dike shouldn’t have to be constant battle, which is why I am grateful they’ll be using this funding to fast-track repairs to the dike. A decade-long battle is finally over and our work has finally paid off.”
Why is it important who receives the credit for this project? Two words – algae toxins. Residents who live around Lake Okeechobee are looking for someone to blame for the on-going issue of fresh water polluted with toxins discharged from the lake to relieve pressure on the aged Hoover Dike, which has been classified as “critically near failure.”
The repairs to the dike aren’t a panacea because the Army Corps has yet to approve a proposal to decrease the level of the water discharges, but it’s clearly seen as a step in the right direction – especially in an election year.