Nearly nine years after passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $53-million construction contract for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project. The award, drawing on nearly $40 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, represents the first federal construction funds for what was supposed to be an equal partnership between the U.S. government and the state of Florida. To date, the state has invested about $2.5 billion, mostly for land acquisition, while the federal government has spent some $600 million on documentation, project implementation plans, regulation-writing and similar preparatory work.

Harry Pepper and Associates, Jacksonville, Fla., received the contract to construct an 810-cu-ft-per-second pump station and a spreader canal to restore sheet flow over the area, plug 13.5 miles of canals and remove 95 miles of deteriorated roads within a failed 1960s residential development called Southern Golden Gate Estates. The swampy land, totaling 55,000 acres in Collier County, Fla., had been thoroughly drained, cross-hatched by paved roads and even partially built up before the developer went bankrupt.

The state spent about 20 years and $250 million buying back the land from many owners. The South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach, completed initial restoration work in 2006, plugging seven miles of canal, removing 200 miles of roads and clearing non-native plants.

Authorities expect the ecosystem to be quickly restored; much already has come back in the area near a canal that has been plugged. The Corps will award two more contracts to complete the restoration, including a $100-million contract for pumps. The awards are scheduled for August 2010.