Another big Everglades project broke ground on Friday, a $79 million job in Southwest Florida to plug a drainage canal, install a massive pump to pulse freshwater back into thirsty wetlands and salty estuaries and rip out 100 miles of overgrown roadbed, remnants of a long-dead real estate fiasco.
It’s the second phase of work on the Picayune Strand, a landscape of pine forests, cypress stands and soggy prairie that form a critical puzzle piece connecting surrounding parks, preserves and refuges. It’s the latest of a half dozen Everglades construction projects now under way and – at 55,000 acres – it’s also the single largest Glades project on the books.
And there’s another much smaller number that has become increasingly important for environmentalists and state and federal agencies fighting to keep restoration momentum alive: 150 new jobs on the site and a ripple effect that will support hundreds more.
“In this environment, when you have the governor talking about creating private sector jobs and you have the Obama administration talking about creating jobs, there’s no doubt that the economic impacts are important part of the equation,’’ said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation.
Environmentalists hope to sell Gov. Rick Scott — whose “Let’s Get to Work” motto was the cornerstone of his campaign — on the idea that restoration projects represent an economic engine that Florida needs to keep running. That’s always been part of the pitch but now it will get equal billing with environmental benefits.
“We are reaching out to the administration and saying please remember that Florida’s economy depends on a quality environment,’’ said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “We’ve got a whole lot of jobs related to a quality environment.’’
Activists hope to get a better sense of where Scott and his new environmental and growth management secretaries stand with meetings in coming weeks. So far, the message from the new boss in Tallahassee has been mixed.
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