U.S. Rep. Darren Soto’s efforts to give the Kissimmee River federal Wild and Scenic River status passed an important milestone this week.
Soto secured a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives to support legislation that would launch a study of the proposal he broached last year.
The bill has been referred to the Committee for Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate.
The Kissimmee River was once a winding 103-mile river that was ditched in the 1960s for flood control, destroying thousands of acres of riverine marsh habitat that once attracted large numbers of waterfowl.
The project, which was opposed by the environmental community and many outdoors groups, also eliminated the river’s environmental services as a natural pollution-treatment plant.
By the 1980s government officials acknowledged the project was a mistake and launched a study to undo most of the damage.
That brought on the largest river-restoration project in world history through Congressional authorization in 1992.
Work finally began in 1999 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020, about five years after the initial predicted completion date.
The entire river will not be restored because of encroachment in the floodplain by development on the south end of the river near Lake Okeechobee that officials decided makes some flood protection necessary unless the property owners were bought out and forced to move, which was not approved.