TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who has spent months sniping at President Barack Obama on everything from health care to federal budget cuts — challenged the president to tour parts of the state that are being damaged by water being released from Lake Okeechobee.
Scott sent a two-page letter to Obama late Tuesday that invited him and his administration to see how "federal shortcomings" have affected families in the regions near the lake.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the lake to reduce pressure on the aging Herbert Hoover Dike. Parts of the earthen dike date back to the 1930s.
High lake levels increase the risk of a breach in the dike. The water level in the lake was 15.9 feet and rising Wednesday after a couple weeks of above-average rainfall.
Critics say polluted freshwater from the lake has ravaged the ecosystems of the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie estuary.
The water releases will continue for the foreseeable future, though at lower rates than the heavy discharges of July and August, said Corps Lt. Col. Tom Greco.
The Corps is working to reduce the discharges, which is a goal of the Everglades restoration plan that the Obama administration has identified as important, Greco said.
"What we would want to show anyone, in particular the president, is a lot of the work that's going on down here, and also why the work is so important," he said.
But in his letter, Scott chides the Obama administration for not prioritizing federal aid including money to repair the aging dike. He says that the president's budget recommendations for 2014 call for reducing the amount of money spent on the dike.
Scott went further when speaking to reporters.
"If they had done their job and fixed the dike they wouldn't be sitting there worried about whether the dike is going to break or not," Scott said. "If he cared about the citizens of that area of the state then he'd come down here and see the problem. But he won't."
Joanna Rosholm, a White House spokeswoman, said "the president remains committed" to a partnership with the state "in our shared goal of restoring the Florida Everglades."
Rosholm said the administration "views rehabilitating the Herbert Hoover Dike as a priority." She the Army Corps is waiting on Congress to move forward on four projects that would help reduce discharges into the estuaries and advance Everglades restoration efforts.
Earlier this month a state budget panel approved spending nearly $3 million on several projects designed to reduce water coming from the lake into nearby estuaries.
Scott this summer also pledged to push for $40 million in additional state aid to finish the construction on a storm water treatment project by the St. Lucie River that could ease the environmental impact of water being released from nearby waterways.
The Republican governor — who has been battling low poll numbers as he heads into his re-election campaign — has routinely been criticizing the Obama administration this year. Scott has complained about federal budget cuts and its impact on National Guard troops needed in case of hurricanes, the health care overhaul, and a lack of federal funding for Everglades restoration.
Jennifer Kay contributed to this story from Miami.
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