- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - An internal review board at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants more time to finalize a report on an Everglades restoration project with a pressing deadline.

The Corps' Civil Works Review Board met Tuesday in Washington to discuss the Central Everglades Planning Project. It concluded that “while the analysis and project plans are extremely well done,” more time is needed before the project report is ready for a final 30-day review by the state and other federal agencies.

Environmental advocates worry that the delay will keep the project out of the pending Water Resources Development Act, which would mean that long-delayed Everglades restoration could end up waiting up to another seven years for congressional authorization.

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg called the board’s decision a “staggering failure of duty and responsibility.”

“The blame for this failure - and future damage to the environment and economy - now is squarely on the epaulets of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Eikenberg said.

Officials with the Corps’ Jacksonville district, which prepared the report, say they expect to release it for review no later than the end of June.

“We haven’t failed. We’re very close,” Eric Bush, the district’s planning and policy chief, said Wednesday.

The Everglades project report has been in the works since November 2011, and the goal was to complete it in less than three years regardless of congressional deadlines, Bush said. He added that the typical timeline for this kind of study can extend to six years or longer.

The costs of the $1.9 billion project are to be split evenly between Florida and the federal government. The Corps remains on the same page as the South Florida Water Management District, which approved the project earlier this month, Bush said.

As to whether the project will miss its deadline for federal funding, Bush said “it’s a question that should be directed to Congress as much as the Corps of Engineers.”

South Florida Water Management District spokesman Randy Smith said in an email that the agency is committed to working with its federal partners to keep the project on an expedited schedule. Smith said the district is requesting the Corps' Civil Works Review Board to immediately reconvene to discuss and approve project.