Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Jacksonville District Commander Col. Jason Kirk visited the Herbert Hoover Dike at Clewiston on Monday morning to announce that although Lake Okeechobee has risen to more than 17 feet above sea level while absorbing runoff from Hurricane Irma’s torrential rains last month, the dike still is not showing any signs of stress.
Col. Kirk noted that over the weekend, the USACE initiated its enhanced inspection schedule, which kicks in whenever the lake exceeds 17 ft. And Gov. Scott used the opportunity to needle the feds a bit, urging that concerned citizens contact President Trump and their elected representatives to amplify the pressure on him and Congress to finance the USACE adequately so that the dike rehabilitation project can be completed on its expedited schedule by 2022.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure we continue to take care of this dike. We do it for the safety of everybody here and also for all the jobs it creates,” Gov Scott told the assembled crowd. “We just had the opportunity with Col. Jason Kirk to understand what they (the USACE) are doing every day. They’re doing inspections to make sure that we don’t see any leakage around the dike.” He added that the lake level is expected to keep rising for a while yet, even without any more storms on the horizon.
“We anticipate the crest right now, without a major storm, at a little less than 17.5 feet. And so it’s very important to me that we do everything we can to take care of everybody here,” said the governor, turning the podium over to Col. Kirk.
“I appreciate the chance to talk to citizens here in Clewiston and the surrounding counties,” Col. Kirk began. “As the governor said, the lake is just above 17.1 feet today, and so, through our standard protocols, we began an increased inspection schedule to ensure the integrity of the dike. We do that daily in the southern half and every week on the northern half of the lake. And from the first day inspection yesterday, governor, I can report no signs of distress.”
He noted that going by historical records, the Herbert Hoover Dike is unlikely to show signs of distress up through 17.5 ft. “Notwithstanding any storms out there that we cannot currently predict, we do not predict significant risk along the dike at this time,” Col. Kirk said. He complimented Gov. Scott on his push to get the dike project done sooner than had been planned. “We appreciate the partnership that is a part of everything we do in South Florida, you can see a construction project just down to my left. It is part of the over $800 million that the federal government has put into the very, very necessary rehabilitation project for the dike, and we’re about halfway through that process. And governor, we appreciate the fact that the state, the state legislature and you personally have been engaged to put additional funds forward to help with funding the rehabilitation of the dike, which will lower the risk for operating this lake, and lower the risk to the citizens.”
Gov. Scott responded: “You know, this is a federal project. And the corps has been a good partner in a lot of things. But the federal government has got to do their job. They’ve got to fund these projects. The state has put in, has spent $2.1 billion on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project. The federal government is $900 million behind us. And so we all have to make sure that we’re calling our president, we’re calling our members of Congress to make sure that they fund the corps so we can get all of this done.”
The governor said the action by the legislature in its 2017 session “is the first time a governor and the legislature has ever put money into a federal program in this state. We invested $50 million of your state money because we know it is very important. During Donald Trump’s campaign and since then,” Gov. Scott continued, “I’ve been talking to him about the importance of making sure we get the dike completely restored by 2022. I’m talking to the president constantly and his team constantly, and they have committed to me that they’re going to be a partner of getting this done.”