By Samantha Joseph
MARTIN COUNTY -- Planners looking to protect the ecosystem of the Central Everglades are inviting feedback from Martin County residents.
Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in Stuart Dec. 13 as part of a five-city tour that included Coconut Creek, Estero, Homestead and Clewiston.
"This is the beginning process of a larger project," said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Jennifer Miller.
"We've made some progress in the last year and developed a final grid of proposed alternatives. Now we're getting the public's input."
The project launched in October 2011. It involves several major bodies of water in South Florida, including the St. Lucie Estuary and Lake Okeechobee. In Martin County, there's also the 165,000-acre Northeast Everglades Natural Area, which stretches from Bridge Road in Hobe Sound to Southern Boulevard in Palm Beach County.
The project proposes to move water south from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades agricultural area, which includes 15 canals and 25 water-control systems managed by the South Florida Water Management District. The goal is to maintain water levels and help protect the region's ecosystem.
Engineers will treat the water sent to the agricultural area and direct it to several other parts of the region, including Everglades National Park. They also want to improve conditions in the region's east- and west-coast estuaries.
The goal is to deliver to Congress a detailed plan for several restoration projects in the central Everglades.
Project supervisor Kim Taplin encouraged residents to voice their views on the work in the project that will manage water seepage, storage, treatment and distribution.
Ms. Miller said the response in Martin County has been among the most enthusiastic, with the project's technical staff fielding questions from about 12-15 residents and the media about initiatives to protect local waterways.
Planners have made the project a top priority and placed it as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' national pilot program for feasibility studies.
"This will be the building blocks as we set the foundation for restoring the Everglades," Ms. Miller said. "We're working to deliver a finalized plan to Congress within two years."
For more information, visit www.EvergladesPlan.org.