Old Tamiami Blocking removed


For nearly a century, along the northwest corner of Miami-Dade County, Old Tamiami Trail served Florida’s tourists and indigenous tribes. Now in hopes of restoring the Everglades’ historic sheetflow of water, state agencies are working to remove it.

Just south of U.S. 41 near the Miccosukee Indian Village, the South Florida Water Management District is removing 5.5 miles of the unused highway to make way for fresh water flowing south from the heart of the Everglades — Lake Okeechobee.

The $7 million project was approved last summer, but crews had to wait until the area’s water levels dropped after the wet season to begin work.

On Tuesday, the district hosted Gov. Ron DeSantis and heads of various state agencies to witness the removal in action during a project celebration at the construction site.

“This is really an important milestone,” DeSantis said at the event. “It will improve the volume of water flowing south through the Everglades and support reducing harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

The project is part of the overall Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan authorized in 2000. The project has been a partnership between the state of Florida and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

DeSantis said that despite people saying the state’s budget would be a disaster, “we’re going to end up having a lot of success in this budget” for Everglades and water infrastructure funding.

In March, Florida’s representatives in the U.S. Congress asked President Joe Biden for $725 million, an increase from the $250 million in federal funding last year.

The roadbed removal is expected to increase the flow of freshwater into the northeast Shark River Slough by 220 billion gallons per year, DeSantis said.

“They tell me that this project is expected to be completed by January,” DeSantis said. “So, we’ll hold you to that and make sure that we continue working hard to be able to get that done.”

Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said during the event that Everglades restoration has hit a “battle rhythm” of getting things done.

“When water is not moving south, you have water moving to the estuaries. You don’t want it there,” Valenstein said. “You also have, I’ll mention, our tribal nations — when we have high water levels — are having flooding on their own homes. This is not acceptable, and we look forward to more water going south.”

When Old Tamiami Trail was built about 97 years ago, Miccosukee families moved out of the hammocks and set up near the highway to sell handmade toys to tourists as they traveled back and forth between Naples and Miami, Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee, said.

Hospitality workers are important: Tourists tell DeSantis


Hospitality workers need to be prioritized. On Friday, Central Florida tourism industry leaders asked Governor Ron DeSantis to include their employees in the next round of priorities for vaccine shots. They argue that front-line tourism workers need to be protected from the COVID-19 virus in order to make the economy emerge.

The Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, Visit Orlando, and the International Drive Chamber of Commerce each wrote to DeSantis Friday urging him to consider the state’s largest — and hardest-hit — industry when deciding who should be considered critical employees for COVID-19 shots at state-run vaccine centers.

CFHLA President Robert Agrusa wrote in his letter to DeSantis that, “Hospitality and Tourism are critical to the success of Florida’s economy — with 1.6 million Floridians, and nearly 500,000 Central Florida residents being employed by the industries in 2019 — according to research conducted by Tourism Economics and VISIT FLORIDA,”.

He further said that; “By ensuring hospitality and lodging employees are prioritized for vaccination under Phase 1c, it will help our region promote the safety of our destination to millions of eager travelers who — in peak travel years — have generated over $90 billion in economic impact for the state.”

Visit Orlando’s letter was co-signed by the organization’s Board Chair Brian Comes and President Casandra Matej.

They note, “This request is in line with the roll-out protocol listed on the CDC website, which also includes traveler accommodations personnel in the Phase 1c category as a prioritized group essential to continuing our country’s critical functions.”

A particularly hard-hit region in Central Florida. It is among the tourism-economy-heavy regions of Florida particularly hard hit by the economic collapse of the coronavirus crisis last spring and has been the slowest to recover. While Florida’s unemployment rate had softened to 6.1% by the end of the year, the jobless rate was still 7.2% in Orange County, and 8.7% in Osceola County where many lower-wage tourism and hospitality workers live.

Agrusa said other hotels and tourism associations around the state are sending similar letters requesting hospitality workers be recognized as priorities for vaccines.

According to experts, it may take years to fully recover the hospitality industry. However,  getting hospitality staff vaccinated could speed that up both by assuring their health and safety and by sending a message nationally that the hotels are safe, industry leaders argued.

Agrusa pointed out in the letter that the hotel industry has been doing its part in the battle against the coronavirus.

“Since March 2020, hotel properties have been utilized as a part of Florida’s initial COVID-19 testing strategy and are now continuing to serve as vaccine distribution locations. Hotels across the state have served as temporary lodging to house medical workers and other first responders, and hospitality and lodging employees have remained on the front lines of this pandemic for over a year,” he wrote.