After 18 years, a $1.5 billion levee repair has been completed on Florida’s Lake O

By CURT ANDERSON – Associated Press

ST PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — After 18 years, a $1.5 billion project to repair the sprawling levee around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee that protects thousands of people from potentially flooding was officially completed Wednesday after 18 years. catastrophic during hurricanes.

The Herbert Hoover Dike project overseen by the US Army Corps of Engineers was completed three years ahead of schedule and at a saving of $300 million over the original estimated cost, officials said at a groundbreaking ceremony on the shore from the lake at Clewiston.

“Herbert Hoover Dike has never been in better shape than he is now,” said Col. James Booth, commander of the Jacksonville District of the Corps of Engineers. “This is great news for lakeside communities.”

The restoration project, which began in 2005, involved work on the entire 143-mile (230-kilometer) stretch of the levee that encircles the massive lake. The levee was originally started after hurricanes in the 1920s caused lake flooding that killed thousands in sugar-producing regions, including Clewiston, South Bay, Pahokee and Belle Glade. It was eventually expanded to encircle the 730 square miles (1,900 square kilometers) of the lake.

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A 1928 hurricane that caused Lake Okeechobee to flood up to 20 feet (6 meters) deep in some cities is estimated to have killed at least 2,500 people, most of them black farm workers. That storm and its impact on the poor was commemorated in Zora Neale Hurston’s classic 1937 book “Their Eyes Beheld God.”

However, in the late 1990s, engineers discovered that the natural levee of sand, rock, and limestone that had been upgraded in the 1950s was weakening and could collapse during a storm. That, in turn, prompted managers who control lake levels to move more water to Florida’s east and west coasts to reduce the danger of flooding.

Completion of the levee improvements will allow lake levels to remain higher, reducing the need for discharges that can carry harmful nutrients to shorelines and improving the quality of water moving south into the Everglades, the Vast wetlands are also in the midst of a multi-billion dollar restoration effort, Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eichenberg said.

“The future is bright for America’s Everglades and the future is bright for Lake Okeechobee,” Eichenberg said.

Everything about the levee project is huge. More than 7.8 million man-hours from 42 contractors were dedicated to the work. About 90,000 cubic yards (69,000 cubic meters) of concrete were poured. Twenty-eight water control structures were replaced. There are nine pumping stations and nine navigation locks now in place.

For people who live near the lake, the project means less worry about a levee failing during a storm, Clewiston Mayor James Pittman said.

“It is nothing short of a miracle. Now, the cities around the lake can live with confidence and security,” she said.

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