Money for the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee is coming.
On Monday, when the dike was specifically mentioned in President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget, Governor Rick Scott called it reaffirming a “commitment to me” on the dike’s repair.
“President Trump’s budget announcement today is great news for Florida and solidifies his commitment to me to secure the federal funding needed for critically important repairs to the federally-operated Herbert Hoover Dike. Last year, after my meeting with President Trump, he directed the White House Office of Management and Budget to accelerate this funding process, and I have had many follow-up meetings with Director Mick Mulvaney,” Scott said in a statement released by his office Monday afternoon.
“After years of fighting for the Herbert Hoover Dike, I am proud that Florida finally has a partner in Washington that is fighting hard for issues important to families in our state.”
Scott’s office included a White House memo from October announcing Trump’s direction to Mulvaney to fund the dike, and after Trump said he would support expediting the dike’s repair as a candidate, Scott has stumped continuously in Washington for the money.
The state also put up $50 million toward the repairs last year, and at Scott’s urging, another $50 million is in the legislative pipeline this year.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who along with fellow Senator Marco Rubio wrote letters in support of using some of the $10.4 billion worth of funds appropriated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the dike’s repair, has been touting the dike money since Friday when it made the cut in a two-year budget deal.
“I’m so glad to meet with the elected officials and the residents out by Lake Okeechobee because they’ve been been fearful that a big storm’s gonna come along and it’s going to breach that dike,” Nelson said during a meeting with Glades officials on Friday, according to the Palm Beach Post. “This is a real win, especially for the folks out at Lake Okeechobee.”
Who gets to take the credit for it may become a key issue at the ballot box.
Though it hasn’t been announced yet, Scott is widely expected to challenge Nelson for his Senate seat this year as the governor terms out of office in Tallahassee.
While meeting with reporters in Naples on Feb. 1, Scott again was noncommittal on if he plans to run.
“I’m focused right now of course on the legislative session,” Scott said.
Most politicians are thinking about their next job, I’ve got 340 days left in this job and that’s what I’m focused on.”
That hasn’t stopped pollsters from taking peeks at what the 2018 race between Scott and Nelson could look like. In a poll released last week by Florida Atlantic University, Scott led Nelson in a hypothetical Senate race between the two by 10 points, 44 to 34 with 22 percent left undecided.
It also hasn’t stopped sparring over what could be key issues in November. On Jan. 9, after Secretary Ryan Zinke said he was removing Florida’s coastlines from a list of locations that could be used for oil and gas exploration, Scott took credit for an afternoon meeting with Zinke making the deal, while Nelson blasted what he called a political stunt.
“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career. We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of FL,” Nelson tweeted on Jan. 9.
The Herbert Hoover Dike has been going through ongoing repair and rehabilitation efforts, which were expected to take through 2025 to complete. Florida officials have been calling on the federal government to speed up the process for years, amplifying each time Lake Okeechobee related issues come up.
Though the dike survived Hurricane Irma in September no worse for the wear – the worst of the storm going over Southwest Florida rather than up the middle of the state as initially feared — water levels in the lake reached over 17 feet, which prompted the Army Corps to rush freshwater through various estuaries including the Caloosahatchee River to drive water levels down and keep stress off the dike. Risks of dike failure go up significantly if the lake reaches over 18 feet.
“That’s so necessary, because when the next big one comes, we don’t want to take a chance that lives and property are going to be damaged because that hurricane breaks the existing dike,” Nelson said.
Trump’s proposed funds would accelerate completion of the dike to 2022.
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