Everglades to get water relief from $81 mln bridge

MIAMI Tue Sep 29, 2009 5:00pm EDT

A crocodile observes at the water surface in the Florida's Everglades, near Miami, Feabruary 2, 2005. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A crocodile observes at the water surface in the Florida's Everglades, near Miami, Feabruary 2, 2005.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded an $81 million contract to a Florida company to build a road bridge that will help restore fresh water flows in Everglades National Park, nourishing its ecosystem.

Beginning in November 2009, Kiewit Southern Company of Sunrise, Fla. will remove one mile of the Tamiami Trail road that crosses the park -- environmentalists view the section as a harmful barrier to natural water flows to the northeastern Everglades -- and replace it with the bridge.

"Tamiami Trail currently acts as a dam that starves the Park of its lifeblood -- water," Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades National Park, said in a statement posted on the website of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which announced the awarding of the contract.

The contract includes constructing the bridge, and raising and reinforcing an additional 9.7 miles of the Tamiami Trail, allowing higher water levels in an adjacent canal, which will drive increased flows into the park.

Completion of the bridge and road-raising was projected for 2013. Funding for the construction project was provided by the Department of the Interior, the statement said.

"The bridge and roadway modifications will not only supply much needed water to imperiled wildlife and vegetation in the Park, but they will also result in ecosystem restoration benefits to the greater Everglades," Kimball said.

The initiative to improve natural fresh water flows to the Everglades, which is also known as the "River of Grass" and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, dates back to the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act approved by the U.S. Congress in 1989.

The proposed modification of the Tamiami Trail had been plagued by bureaucratic delays and infighting and lawsuits.

Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s so vehicles could travel between Tampa and Miami, two of the earliest centers of population growth in southern Florida. Decades later, conservationists identified the trail as one of the most serious threats to the ecological health of the Everglades.

In 2008, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had estimated the cost of the project to be approximately $200 million. But the Corps website statement said changes in the nation's economy over the last year had dramatically decreased the project's cost to less than 50 percent of the original estimate.

(Reporting by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Paul Simao)

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