Recently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board (CWRB) decided to defer approval of an implementation report on the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP). Since that decision, a lot of information has circulated regarding what this action means and what happens next.
I am writing to assure you that CEPP and the entire Everglades restoration program are very important to the Corps, and we remain committed to making progress.
We have a strong partnership with the state of Florida and other state and federal agencies in ongoing efforts to restore this significant and unique national ecosystem. The decision to defer approval of the CEPP report was made to enable the Corps to complete a full review of the nearly 8,000-page document to ensure it complies with all applicable federal laws, regulations and policies.
This kind of review must be completed for any national project report brought before a CWRB for consideration, and is a critical step before a project report can be released for state and agency review. Failure to do so could result in significant delays if problems or issues are identified later on that could have been discovered prior to releasing the report.
The progress we have achieved with CEPP is a significant accomplishment for the Corps and our partners in the effort, especially for a project that is this large and complex.
We have reached this point in the process in less than 2 1/2 years, which is a reduction of several years in the traditional Corps planning process. This is the result of a concerted effort by Corps staff and our partners, and our ongoing efforts to transform civil works planning processes nationwide.
We expect to complete the policy review of the CEPP report within the next few weeks.
If issues are discovered during review of the report, they will be addressed as quickly as possible to keep the process moving forward. The CWRB members will then reconvene to finalize their deliberations on the report before it’s released for the required 30-day state and agency review.
Following the state and agency review, there are still several required steps that must happen before CEPP can become reality.
First, the Corps must address any comments raised during the state and agency review. The Corps must then prepare a “Chief of Engineers” report to present to the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval and signature. That report is then forwarded to Congress for information and to the Department of the Army and the administration for review. Once the administration clears the report it is sent to Congress for possible authorization and funding.
These steps are required in law, must be accomplished sequentially and cannot be done concurrently.
In closing, let me say I understand the frustration many of you have expressed about the actions of the CEPP Civil Works Review Board. We, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, also wish to see CEPP move forward as quickly as possible and are fully committed to completing the review of the CEPP report as expeditiously as possible while continuing our role as a partner in Everglades restoration.
However, as stewards of the public trust and of the federal tax dollars appropriated to us, we must ensure that CEPP — like all planned projects — fully complies with federal law and policies before it is presented to Congress for consideration.
Col. Alan Dodd is commander of the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.