Repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and restoring the Everglades are important to President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday after visiting a construction project along the lake.
Zinke plans to visit Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades todayon and Everglades National Park on Saturday.
“On behalf of President Trump, this is a priority,” Zinke said after inspecting repairs to a culvert along the dike on the east side of the lake.
Trump has proposed spending $82 million on rehabilitating the dike in 2018, up from about $68 million approved by Congress in 2017.
The dike project is being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the Interior Department has an interest because it oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Col. Jason Kirk, the district commander for the Army Corps, briefed Zinke on the dike project.
“We were able to show the secretary this lake is known as the liquid heart of the Everglades,” Kirk said. Along with Kissimmee River projects to the north, Kirk said, “now the Herbert Hoover Dike will make the lake safer and it is an ecosystem that is the liquid heart of the Everglades to the south.”
Gov. Rick Scott has urged the Trump administration to accelerate dike repairs so they are completed in 2022 rather than the scheduled 2025. That would require Congress to appropriate $200 million a year from 2019 to 2022 — far more than Trump has proposed or Congress has ever approved in the past.
Still, Zinke didn’t rule out the possibility.
“From President Trump, we want it done yesterday,” Zinke said. “He wants to win, so anything I can do to remove the regulations, streamline the process, to get it moving quicker — we can do it right. The Army Corps of Engineers is the best this country has as far as engineering goes. So I’m comfortable if they’re given the green light they can complete the task quicker.”
On the issue of Everglades restoration to the south of the lake, Zinke said, “It is a priority of this administration and this secretary to restore the Everglades. It is a unique system.”