Thursday, April 27, 2006

Audit faults gov't for Everglades delays

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A decades-old project to restore water flows to Everglades National Park has mushroomed in cost and suffered delays because of government indecision and the inability of various agencies to communicate, a federal audit has concluded.

The cost of the project has risen from an $81 million estimate in 1989 to nearly $400 million, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney found.

The Modified Water Deliveries Project, a predecessor and key component of the broader state-federal Everglades restoration plan, now may not be finished until 2009 or later, according to the report, released last week.

Part of the problem is an inability of agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to agree on "fundamental planning and design issues" for water control and water depth, the audit said. It also cited difficulties in communicating with the Army Corps of Engineers, Indian tribes and state agencies.

Disagreements and lack of communication have led to court battles, further contributing to delays.

The project calls for replenishing the park's marshes and prairies by boosting water flows from large reservoirs north of the park, which was cut off from its historic flows when highways and canals were constructed in the early 1900s. Among the challenges are finding a way to redesign canals, dikes and a highway that slices across the southern half of the state.

The Interior Department's senior Everglades policy adviser, Terrence Salt, said the agency has already addressed many of the problems raised by the audit.

"Obviously, it has taken longer and been more difficult than anybody imagined," Salt said.

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