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For Immediate Release: Mar 21, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EVERGLADES RESTORATION STUCK IN THE MUD

Corps Memo Admits Delays, Cost Overruns and Uncertain Direction


Washington, DC — Five years after its inception, the ambitious plan to restore the Everglades is at risk of foundering, according to a memo by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official in charge of the project and released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This remarkably candid memo admits ballooning costs, blown deadlines and growing scientific uncertainty as the massive $12 billion project enters “a critical juncture.”

The March 7, 2005 memo was written by Gary Hardesty and was meant for internal use by Headquarters Staff in preparing the Corps’ 5-Year Report to Congress. It cautions against being “overly optimistic” and urges, “We need to be truthful.” Significantly, Hardesty acknowledges that the Everglades plan has shifted – “it’s different from what we told the Congress we would do…and it’s not restoration!”

The memo concisely traces mounting troubles plaguing the federal-state effort to restore natural water flows to the area known as “the River of Grass,” including—

  • Delays. “We have missed almost every milestone…we are experiencing schedule delays…we haven’t built a single project during the first 5-years…”
  • Cost Overruns. “We are already approaching a billion dollar increase…there are unexpected cost increases… This report will truly be the first report they [Congress] have seen in over 5 years and cost growth will be an issue.”
  • Water Quality Problems. The State of Florida amended the Everglades Forever Act to weaken water pollution standards. Federal reports about the extent to which Florida has undermined water quality goals in the Everglades have yet to be released. In the meantime, Hardesty concedes that the Corps “science is being criticized; we are dealing with modeling issues.”

The next few months in Congress will be crucial in determining future federal financial support not only for Everglades Restoration but also for a slew of other Corps projects. As the federal budget tightens, full funding for the Everglades Restoration Plan will limit the amount of funds available for other Corps projects and vice versa. Hardesty predicts a need “to rebuild Congressional confidence or we may lose support and ultimately program funding.”

“This memo calls into question the credibility of Corps planning not just for the Everglades but for all its projects,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the Corps holds up the Everglades Restoration as the standard for its next generation of civil works projects. “For the Corps of Engineers, the truth has historically been the last recourse when all else has failed.”

Hardesty’s memo echoes a 2002 email by Major General Robert Griffin, now the Deputy Commander of the Corp, stating that the deterioration of fundamental Corps planning skills threatens “the very foundation of the civil works program.” “The problems with Corps planning start at the top, with a leadership that totters from scandal to scandal without any meaningful reform or accountability,” Ruch concluded.

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Read the Hardesty memo on the Everglades 5-Year Report to Congress

View the July 2002 warning about declining Corps competence in planning