By David Sutta

MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spent Thursday in South Florida to view progress of a vital part of the Everglades Restoration Project.

Salazar and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe visited the site of the Tamiami Trail Bridge Project which will help restore fresh water flows to Everglades National Park and the South Florida ecosystem.

“This is currently the largest ecosystem restoration in the United States of America,” Secretary Salazar said. “It is also the largest ecosystem restoration project in the world.”

Crews are currently raising a one-mile section of Tamiami Trail into a bridge about two miles west of the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue.

Since Tamiami Trail acts as a “dam” between the north and south sides of the roadway, the raising of the road will allow water to flow freely under the bridge and reconnect fresh water flows.

“It’s like humpty dumpty; when we put the Everglades back together, eventually we want to get that levy and reconnect the marsh,” said Donald Jodrey of the Interior Department.

Salazar and Ashe also installed four new commemorative planks at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Commemorative planks – one for each of the 555 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System – form a walkway at Pelican Island, the first national wildlife refuge, established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

“This is about a sustainable future,” Jodrey said. “Seven million residents here need clean, fresh water to drink. The aquifer that supplies the drinking wells of Miami is under the Everglades.”

And there’s already talk of the next phase of bridges.

“What we don’t have yet is we haven’t identified the funding sources for the other five and a half miles we have to get constructed,” Salazar said.

Republican Representative David Rivera was also at the event and was asked about how politicians can find $400 million to move the project along.

It’s the struggle you have in finding funding in every part of the budget,” Congressman Rivera said. “We all know what the fiscal constraints are in Washington and what they will be going forward. But it’s an issue of prioritizing and I think most members of Congress understand the Everglades is a priority for our nation.”

The bridge is expected to be completed by Dec. 2013, and will have a final price of $500 million.


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