Spending Bill Has 'Bridge to Nowhere' for Everglades

Tuesday, 03 Mar 2009 07:15 PM

By Rick Pedraza

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A proposed “bridge to nowhere” into the Florida Everglades — a project a federal judge described as "a complete waste of taxpayer dollars” — is one of 9,000 pork barrel projects buried inside President Barack Obama's giant spending bill, The Washington Times reports.

Designed to bridge the Tamiami Trail roadway to allow water to flow freely through the Everglades, the project faces the opposition of local Native Americans. Miccosukee Tribe officials say the goal could be accomplished “simply by getting public employees to clean out some culverts” and build swales.

Tribe officials wrote in a letter last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that the provision will harm the Everglades and “add another sad chapter to the lamentable history of mistreatment and exploitation of American Indians and reach a landmark in irresponsible spending,” The Miami Herald reports.

Despite the tribe’s objections — and a judge’s ruling in November that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hadn't performed adequate studies to construct the 1-mile bridge — Democrats in Congress approved the giant budget bill last week with $183 million for Everglades projects, including $60 million for the bridge. Environmentalists contend that improving water flow is important for an overall Everglades restoration project.

Also tucked into the bill is a provision crafted to get around the tribe’s lawsuit blocking the Tamiami bridge project, The New York Times reports. Tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen says Congress is trying to undermine tribal legal rights. He also points out that Congress allowed the corps to disregard federal environmental laws surrounding the project.

“You tell the tribe to follow the law, but when the tribe follows the law and wins, you throw them out of court,” says Lehtinen, whose wife is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

In addition to $60 million for the Tamiami bridge, the spending bill includes $4.4 million for the C-111 canal in South Miami-Dade County, $28 million to extend Kissimmee River restoration, and $74 million to speed repairs on the Lake Okeechobee dike.

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