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Seminole Tribe’s concerns noted in Everglades report

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently sent a required report to Congress on what it calls “Everglades restoration momentum.”

The most significant part of the 144-page report, now available to the public, is the status of the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, which has been ongoing since 2000.

The Corps and the South Florida Water Management District are the leads on CERP implementation.

Everglades restoration is a complex bureaucratic web that involves multiple agencies and stakeholders – including the Seminole Tribe and the

Miccosukee Tribe. It consists of dozens of projects and initiatives across a large swath of the state.

Recovery has been impacted by sea grass die-off in Florida Bay, harmful algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries, effects from hurricanes and invasive species, and sea level rise, among others.

The new report, which covers 2015 to 2020, cites what the Corps and others see as signs of progress, including better water quality and distribution.

Much of CERP’s goals are to provide a clean water flow to the central Everglades to restore the southern Everglades and Florida Bay. In short, the idea is to reduce water releases from Lake Okeechobee by capturing, storing, cleaning and redirecting it. The Corps describes the ongoing efforts as “getting the water right.”

However, the Corps’ path to successful restoration doesn’t always align with the Seminole Tribe.

While the report states often that the Seminole Tribe has been consulted on proposed plans and projects, communication has been spotty and the tribe says it has ongoing concerns.

One concern includes plans for a variety of water-related construction projects along Lake Okeechobee, including water storage near the Brighton Reservation.

The tribe believes the storage projects have the potential to cause life threatening flooding, property damage, negative environmental impacts to water supply and agriculture – and that it encroaches on tribal lands.

Stacy D. Myers, senior scientist and liaison for the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office, submitted some of the tribe’s views, based on previous letters and position statements made by the tribe, for inclusion in the report.

Everglades restoration projects have been ongoing for decades with many stakeholders across Florida. (Image via Army Corps Facebook)

He said while the tribe generally supports additional water storage for drainage and flood control, “initiatives to build large, above ground water storage facilities north of Lake Okeechobee are unnatural and inconsistent with restoration.” The tribe has objected to those projects.

Myers also noted inconsistent communication from the Corps: “Particularly [in] situations that may impact the tribe and its natural resources.”

He wrote that when the tribe’s interests align with the Corps’ goals, there is more communication and coordination. But when restoration planning potentially impacts tribal resources negatively, or “presents a difficult issue … where the tribe may oppose aspects of the planning effort,” communication slows or stops.

In the meantime, the tribe has called for an ethnographic study – observations in a natural environment versus a lab – to aid the Corps in its consideration of traditional cultural properties, places and sites that are of significance “when determining effects of CERP projects.”

The full report can be accessed here.

Editor’s note: One non-CERP project in the report is the Big Cypress Reservation water conservation plan. It was intended to rehydrate wetlands, improve water quality and provide water storage. However, tribal officials had long said the project did not work as intended and was expensive. The project was recently de-authorized and the tribe now has exclusive control over future activity. Click here for the story by Beverly Bidney.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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