MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1998
By Terry L Rice
Retired Col. Terry L. Rice, a research scientist at Florida International University , previously commanded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Jacksonville District. He also represents the Miccosukee Tribe on the Working Group for South Florida Ecosystem Restoration.
OFTEN, as Jean Jacques Rousseau cautioned in his Discourse, "We are deceived by the outward appearance of right." It is this "outward appearance of right" that has fixated the South Florida Water Management District's board on the removal of residents of the 8 1/2 Square Mile Area in the name of restoration, even though restoration can be achieved at less cost and in less time while avoiding the destruction of more than 350 homes. The delay caused by the board's decision will permit the continued destruction of the Everglades and may doom its restoration forever.
To the board, the removal of the people who live "west" of the Corps levee appears "right,"
even though it accepts without question tens of thousands on the "east" side, whose negative impact on the Everglades has been much greater. Further, this appearance of right has been transmogrified into "an absolute right," in the minds of even the keenest intellects, by the contrivance and promulgation of myths:
The 81/2 Square Mile Area must be acquired for Everglades restoration. Not true. As directed by Congress in 1989, the Corps developed a plan to build a levee to protect the area from increased restoration flows in Shark River Slough and submitted it to Congress in 1992.
The Corps plan does not work. Not true. The Corps stands behind its plan and two SFWMD consultants recently confirmed that it allows natural flows in the slough.
SFWMD taxpayers must pay to fix the Corps plan. Not true: Congress directed that this project be funded 100 percent by the Interior Department. If the Corps plan doesn't work, the Corps is obligated to fix it at federal expense:
The 81/2 Square.Mile Area is blocking the flow of water in the slough. Not true. The area is on relatively high ground on the, slough's periphery. Removing the residents would have virtually no effect on restoration: This fact is reinforced by plans to keep the main road through the area for Everglades National Park personnel to reach their homes deeper in the slough.
The state supports buyout. Not true. Govs. Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, and Lawton Chiles all considered total buyout and rejected it.
The Corps plan will require that Miami-Dade County increase services at great expense. Not true. The plan provides flood mitigation, not flood protection.
Removing people is a nonengineering solution. Not true. Whether the.increased seepage due to restoration is intercepted at the current boundary or further to the east, significant engineering will be required to handle it.
The analysis that led to buyout was public and definitive. Not true. The analysis was an example of the use of a quantitative decisionmaking methodology to yield preordained results that affect powerless people without the requisite public input.
Most residents want to sell. Not true. Most residents want a version of the Corps plan and their roads raised.
Buyout will expedite restoration. Preposterous. It could very well be a dead-end excursion! The vote was to buy from "willing" sellers, not to condemn as is necessary, and hinges on cost-sharing agreements with Interior and the county. It opens a Pandora's box of issues. The Corps project could be complete by 2003, while the board vote provides no certainty. that the area ever will be vacated.
Both the Corps plan and buyout will permit the restoration of Shark Slough . The board rejected the Corps plan, which could be completed by 2003 for about 40 million and not adversely affect any people. The board opted for a buyout that will cost at least $112 million and remove about 1,000 people. Why? It was deceived by the "outward appearance of right" and embellished by myth.
Restoration of the Everglades will cost billions of dollars and take decades. Fixation on false objectives waste money, create delay, destroy people's lives, and ultimately will undermine public support. Removing people from the area is a fixation that could doom our efforts to restore the only Everglades in the world.