Dispute holds up funds for 'shovel-ready' Everglades project

MIAMI — The Obama administration has pledged to spend nearly half a billion dollars on Everglades restoration over the next two years, a record amount, including $103 million set aside for stimulus projects picked because they are "shovel-ready."

The shovels are indeed ready to go in places such as the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida, where a massive subdivision that failed decades ago will be turned back into 55,000 acres of wetlands.

But President Barack Obama's budget monitors aren't as ready to let the money flow.

The White House Office of Management and Budget has blocked money for Picayune, first in line in a series of stalled restoration projects, over concerns about a new deal that state and federal agencies cut to split the bill.

It's an accounting dispute over land values, with hundreds of millions in federal funding for the Glades potentially at stake.

After nearly four years of negotiations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District late last week approved a "master agreement" that spells out how the state and federal governments calculate cost-sharing.

District board members urged the White House to quickly follow suit. "We have a real sense of urgency here," said Shannon Estenoz, a board member from Plantation. "It's basically everybody is on board and the OMB has to make a decision."


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