By Jenn Domashevich
STUART, Fla. -- Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District spoke at the 27th Annual Everglades Coalition Conference, Jan. 5-8, 2012, in Stuart, Fla., the largest annual forum for discourse on Everglades restoration and conservation.
This year's theme was "Everglades Restoration: Worth Every Penny," and much discussion was driven around the environmental and economic benefits of restoration.
Stu Appelbaum, chief of Jacksonville District's Planning and Policy Division, spoke as a panelist on the "Expediting Return on Restoration Investments through the Central Everglades Planning Process" plenary session Jan. 6. The panel's discussion was primarily focused on the Central Everglades Planning Project, which has set a goal to deliver within two years a finalized plan, known as a Project Implementation Report, for a suite of restoration projects in the central Everglades in preparation for congressional authorization as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The Corps is leading this planning effort in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).
"I have heard concerns about the fast pace of this project and if you can keep up with us," said Appelbaum in regards to the Central Everglades Planning Project. "Yes, you can. We want you to keep up with us and we want you to stay involved. We invite you to be a part of the process with us."
The panel included Terrence "Rock" Salt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; Herschel Vinyard, Secretary of the Florida Department Environmental Protection; Shannon Estenoz, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives for the Department of the Interior; and Melissa Meeker, Executive Director of the SFWMD.
"One thing I learned from my boss is if you get the planning right, the money will follow," said Salt. "If it's the right thing to do and we're moving forward, the money will be there."
Similar thoughts were expressed by Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, as she spoke during a lunch session Jan. 6.
"Together, with our partner, the South Florida Water Management District, we're going to have more action and less paper pushing," Darcy said as she referenced the Central Everglades Planning Project. "I am proud to say that the study's scoping process is on track and will be completed by the end of the month. I hope to be invited here again next year so I can come back with the draft PIR (Project Implementation Report) in hand for the central Everglades."
During the conference, Darcy was presented with the James D. Webb Award for ushering in a new realm of consistent progress in Everglades restoration.
"She has provided guidance, inspiration and leadership for so many people in this room, and for that we thank you," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, State Everglades Coalition Co-Chair, who presented the award along with Dawn Shirreffs, National Everglades Coalition Co-Chair.
Also recognized during the conference was Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alfred Pantano, Jr., who received the Bill Sadowski Award on behalf of 1000 Friends of Florida in recognition of outstanding and distinguished service to the state of Florida, the Everglades and its restoration. Nathaniel Reed, Vice Chairman of the Everglades Foundation, presented Pantano with the award on behalf of 1000 Friends, where he serves as chairman emeritus and founder. Reed had also expressed his gratitude to Pantano during an earlier conference session.
"What can we say to a friend, a dynamic man, who attracted a superb staff to work with him," Reed said. "We say thank you for your time, energy, perception and leadership."
Pantano served as a panelist during the "Managing Lake Okeechobee for Shared Prosperity: Who Gets What, When, and How Much" panel Jan. 7, which discussed what can be done to share Lake Okeechobee's prosperity.
"I do believe as Americans, we need to get real about fresh water," said Pantano. "Water is our most precious resource. You all have a responsibility to tighten up your views and your culture of the lake. Don't get consumed by small battles and lose sight of the bigger goal."
The panel included Dr. Paul Gray, Lake Okeechobee Watershed Program Science Coordinator of the Audubon of Florida; Irene Kennedy Quincy, partner at Pavese Law Firm; Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; and Mary Ann Martin, owner of Roland and Mary Ann Martin's Marina and Resort.
"Conservation is critical. If the lake's not healthy, the rest of the system is not going to be healthy. It's that simple," said Wessel. "It's not that we don't have enough water, it's that we're not sharing it nicely."
Additional discussions focused on how to maximize project benefits and continue much-needed momentum to keep restoration benefits moving forward by operating projects at their full potential in the "Operating Projects to Benefit Southern Estuaries" breakout session Jan. 7. In this session, Howard Gonazales, chief of the Ecosystem Branch, served as a panelist.
"We're really out ahead in regards to adaptive management," said Gonzales. "We are already putting these items into effect, which allows us to have project monitoring in place. We are monitoring everything from water quality to ecology to confirm that projects are performing the way they need to perform."
Also serving as a panelist at this year's conference was Tori White, deputy chief of the Regulatory Division, who spoke during the "Restoration in Lean Times: Doing More with Less" breakout session Jan. 7, which discussed how to get ecosystem restoration projects built in light of state and federal cutbacks.
"When determining appropriate compensatory mitigation, pursuant to our regulations, the Corps can consider whether a proposed mitigation project for ecosystem restoration, such as a CERP component, is environmentally preferable and would have a higher likelihood of ecological success and sustainability than mitigation at a federally-permitted mitigation bank or in lieu of fee," said White. "If CERP identified land is determined to be the most appropriate compensation, the permit's special conditions will provide for appropriate monitoring and maintenance in the interim if and until incorporated into a federal project. The permit condition must also clearly state that such land or mitigation cannot be used as local sponsor credit or in-kind contribution toward the federal project since that would constitute supplanting of ecological credits required for another purpose."