With work now proceeding on a mile-long bridge along the Tamiami Trail to help improve water flows through the Everglades, the National Park Service is calling for another 5.5 miles of bridges to be built.
"The preferred plan identified in the DEIS (draft environmental impact statement) would add 5.5 miles of bridging to the current 1-mile bridge under construction, increasing the total amount of bridge span within the 10.7-mile corridor to 6.5 miles," says Everglades National Park Superintendent Dan Kimball. "When coupled with other planned restoration projects, the additional bridging would provide for unconstrained flow to Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.
"The increased water volumes and improved flow distributions will re-establish seasonal water depths and flooding durations that are critical to the survival of many fish and wildlife species, including the federally endangered wood stork, Everglade snail kite, and Cape Sable seaside sparrow, and the state listed roseate spoonbill," said the superintendent.
The news was welcomed by the National Parks Conservation Association, which views the plan as "both compatible with existing uses and bridging projects, and (which) will ultimately address the 80-year problem of the Trail acting as an unnatural dam to water flow."
“We are thrilled that the Obama administration has made such a strong commitment to restoring Everglades National Park. Five-and-a-half miles of bridging along the Tamiami Trail will result in vital wetland recovery benefits to the park and Florida Bay,” said Sara Fain, NPCA's Everglades restoration program manager. “Moving this project forward is key to reversing the current ecological decline and ensuring we protect this nationally significant treasure for our children and grandchildren.”
In March 2009, Congress directed the Department of the Interior, through the NPS, to immediately evaluate the feasibility of additional bridging along the Tamiami Trail, beyond that to be built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Modified Water Deliveries restoration project -- also known as Mod Waters. Congress underlined the importance of this restoration project to deliver more natural water flow to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
The Tamiami Trail was constructed in the 1920s with the intention of linking Tampa and Miami, hence its name. Last December officials held a ground-breaking ceremony for a mile-long bridge, which is expected to be completed in May 2013. It is located in Miami-Dade County, adjacent to the northern boundary of Everglades National Park.
The process to reach agreement on the bridge was at times complex and time-consuming, involving many stakeholders and subject to rigorous environmental review. In November, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $81 million contract that includes constructing the bridge, and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of the trail.
That bridge will specifically restore more natural water flow to Northeast Shark River Slough, a portion of Everglades National Park which Congress added in 1989. Once completed, Mod Waters will provide a foundation for other restoration projects that will be implemented in the future to increase the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of fresh water to the Everglades.
The Park Service's release of the DEIS on an additional 5.5 miles of bridging spurred NPCA officials to urge Congress to support and fund the project.
“It can serve not only as a landmark restoration project for the nation, but will also put people back to work in south Florida," said Ms. Fain.
In addition to complementing the 1-mile bridge currently under construction, NPCA believes that plans to include the greatest amount of bridging possible will enable water managers to take full advantage of the restoration benefits that will be provided from the State of Florida’s River of Grass land acquisition in the Everglades Agricultural Area.