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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,”

  • Delays. “We have missed almost every milestone…we are experiencing
    schedule delays…we haven’t built a single project during the first
  • 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.


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

the July 2002 warning about declining Corps competence in planning

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