After 18 Years, $1.5 Billion Dike Repair Done at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—After 18 years, a $1.5 cardinal task was officially completed Wednesday to repair the sprawling dike astir Florida’s Lake Okeechobee that protects thousands of radical from perchance catastrophic flooding during hurricanes.

The Herbert Hoover Dike task overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was completed 3 years up of docket and astatine a savings of $300 cardinal implicit the archetypal outgo estimate, officials said astatine a ribbon-cutting ceremonial connected the lake’s enactment successful Clewiston.

“Herbert Hoover Dike has ne'er been successful amended signifier than it is close now,” said Col. James Booth, commandant of the Corps of Engineers’ Jacksonville district. “It’s large quality for the lakeside communities.”

The restoration project, which began successful 2005, progressive enactment passim the dike’s 143-mile span encircling the monolithic lake. The dike was primitively started aft hurricanes successful the 1920s caused water flooding that killed thousands of radical successful sugar-farming regions including Clewiston, South Bay, Pahokee, and Belle Glade. It was yet enlarged to ellipse the lake’s full 730 quadrate miles.

A 1928 hurricane that triggered Lake Okeechobee flooding up to 20 feet heavy successful immoderate towns is estimated to person killed astatine slightest 2,500 people—a bulk of them Black workplace workers. That tempest and its interaction connected the mediocre was memorialized successful Zora Neale Hurston’s classical 1937 publication “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”

By the precocious 1990s, however, engineers discovered the earthy sand, rock, and limestone dike that had been updated successful the 1950s was weakening and could neglect during a storm. That, successful turn, led managers who power the lake’s levels to determination much h2o to Florida’s eastbound and westbound coasts to trim the flood hazard.

Completion of the dike improvements volition alteration the lake’s levels to beryllium kept higher, reducing the request for discharges that tin transportation harmful nutrients to the coasts and improving the prime of h2o moving southbound into the Everglades—the immense wetlands besides successful the midst of a multibillion-dollar restoration effort, said Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eichenberg.

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

Everything astir the dike task is massive. Over 7.8 cardinal man-hours from 42 contractors went into the work. About 90,000 cubic yards of factual was poured. Twenty-eight h2o power structures were replaced. There are 9 pumping stations and 9 navigation locks present successful place.

For radical surviving adjacent to the lake, the task means little interest astir a dike nonaccomplishment during a storm, said Clewiston Mayor James Pittman.

“It’s thing abbreviated of a miracle. Now, the cities astir the water tin dwell successful assurance and safety,” helium said.

By Curt Anderson