President Trump visits Florida's Lake Okeechobee to talk infrastructure

Dike repairs could prevent toxic algae blooms threatening tourism and wildlife.

March 29, 2019, 2:48 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- President Donald Trump traveled to Lake Okeechobee in Florida on Friday to tout infrastructure projects aimed at repairing the Herbert Hoover Dike.

The president said the project is "important in terms of safety," and touted the joint efforts of federal and state authorities as "a great project for Florida."

"This project was dying until we got involved," Trump said. "We are making it stronger that it would have ever been."

The deterioration of the Herbert Hoover Dike, a 143-mile earthen dam that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, has been blamed for serious environmental and public health issues in the southern part of the state. Despite the Trump administration offering $63 million in funding, Florida Democrats and Republicans alike say that’s not enough and have requested $200 million to speed up improvements.

Repairs to the dike could help manage the release of the lake’s polluted waters into the ocean through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and prevent the state’s record toxic algae blooms -- neon green and as thick as guacamole -- that have clogged waterways, killed marine life and threatened Florida’s tourism industry.

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, March 28, 2019.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The Trump administration has pledged to expedite completion of dike repairs, spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, by 2022.

"President Trump is visiting Florida on Friday because he understands that these investments are vital to minimizing potential impacts, including harmful algae blooms, and improving water quality during rainy seasons in the years ahead," the White House said in a statement.

The president was joined on his tour by Florida Republicans Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Congressman Brian Mast, among other state lawmakers and officials.

In a series of tweets on Friday, Sen. Rubio said he hoped lawmakers could sell Trump on becoming the "Everglades President." Speaking to reporters on the side of the lake, Sen. Scott, the former governor of Florida, said that as soon as he entered office he started "bugging" the president to get the dike fixed, and the president came through.

"It would not have happened but for what President Trump did. He took charge of this," Scott said.

Preserving the Everglades and making improvements to the dike have been a bipartisan effort in Florida. Florida Republicans and Democrats have expressed disappointment in the proposed funding, but are hopeful the president’s visit could give their efforts a boost.

A bird flies past a boat ramp where algae collects at the shore of a canal along Lake Okeechobee, Thursday, July 12, 2018, in Clewiston, Fla.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

On Thursday, Democrats praised the efforts of DeSantis, but said they were concerned the visit would be nothing more than a photo-op to “score political points.”

“I do want to compliment the governor for stepping up the state budget,” Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said on a call with reporters Thursday. DeSantis has pledged to make Everglades restoration a financial priority for the state. But she added, “Frankly, it is life or death. … If we do not protect the Everglades, South Florida, in particular, does not have much of a future.”

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., called the president’s Everglades budget “disturbing.”

“I truly hope his visit isn't a campaign political stop and that he will support our needs in Florida,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

After a Make America Great Again rally the night before in Michigan, Trump will be spending the weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

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