Florida port improvements and Everglades restoration could see up to $1.4 billion from the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a bipartisan water resources bill signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
The Act is the first signed by a U.S. president in 14 years — and the first attempt since 2007 — to authorize future spending of federal dollars for eight Florida projects from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, including deepening of the Jacksonville harbor and improving water quality in the Everglades.
“This bipartisan bill will provide the needed funding to ensure the safety of our ports and the competitiveness of our shipping industry,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in a statement on Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson added that Florida projects are “important for either the environment or the economy.”
Among the port projects included in the bill are deepening of the Jacksonville and Canaveral harbors, as well as widening and deepening the Lake Worth Inlet. Inclusion in the act does not guarantee a project will get federal funding, but it increases its chances of inclusion in future spending bills.
In a release, Col. Alan Dodd, the Army Corps’ Jacksonville District commander called Congressional authorization “the first step.”
“It now makes these projects eligible for funding during the appropriations process,” Dodd said. “After receiving appropriations, we can then finalize designs, partnership agreements and contract actions that will enable us to start construction.”
Even so, Florida Ports president Council Doug Wheeler said the act would improve the Corps’ approval process, in addition to “long-overdue release” of funds and “assist Florida ports’ efforts in creating jobs, boost the economy and continuing positioning Florida as a global hub for business.”
“For the first time in seven years, federal and state restoration partners can start work on new Everglades projects,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Audubon’s director of Everglades policy. The act will help continue to increase wetland habitat, protect fragile coastal estuaries, and secure drinking water supply for more than 7 million Floridians.