Federal Judge Finds Phosphorus Discharges Violate Everglades Cleanup Settlement
MIAMI A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Florida and the U.S. government violated the 1992 Everglades cleanup settlement by allowing excessive discharges of phosphorus into the vast wetlands and failing to meet a stormwater treatment deadline.
U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ordered that a special master, who was appointed to oversee the cleanup, hold a hearing on how to resolve the violations, which were brought to the judge's attention by an Indian tribe and environmental groups.
Moreno said allowable phosphorus levels have been exceeded each year since 1999, and that they were not the result of "error or extraordinary phenomena" beyond federal or state control.
Moreno also found a violation in the failure by government agencies to construct a 16,000-acre treatment area by Oct. 1, 2003 as required. Although now built, the judge said it is not fully operating as intended.
Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe, said the judge's ruling would pressure the state to stop the phosphorus discharges into the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, on the northeast edge of the Everglades, and accelerate work on stormwater treatment.
Phosphorus runoff from sugar operations, other farms and dairies and suburbs has been blamed for upsetting the environmental balance of the Everglades by adding too much of the nutrient to the wetlands.
Colleen M. Castille, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said after the ruling that "Florida remains steadfast in its commitment to clean up and restore America's Everglades and will not deviate from the path of progress."
Castille said the 36,000 acres of wetlands built to cleanse Everglades water have reduced phosphorus levels from 170 parts per billion a decade ago to 12 parts per billion now.
The tribe and environmental groups contend that the 30-year, $8.4 billion Everglade's restoration effort is unlikely to further reduce phosphorus runoff as required by the court settlement's deadline of Dec. 31, 2006.
Source: Associated Press