I just visited Lake Okeechobee on a motorcycle trip across Florida to the east coast. The lake, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the USA, in fact just after the Great Lakes, was substantially rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers after two hurricanes caused it to overflow, killing several thousand residents.
Until the rebuild the lake would overflow its banks into the Everglades when too much water dumped into to it from severe storms. The corps essentially built channels, mainly the Saint Lucie boat canal, to drain the lake and end its periodic overflow. This in turn opened the former flood plain to be used for agriculture and it is one of the most productive farm areas in the USA. The rich black soil is similar to that of central Ukraine, the former “bread basket”of Russia.
Lake Okeechobee was rebuilt by the corps in the 1930’s the same time when the Tennessee Valley Authority was building a complex series of dams and hydroelectric facilities to revive an area hard hit the by the Great Depression. Also built in the same period was the Hoover Dam that provided water and electricity for mainly Arizona and California.
These prodigious projects faced significant opposition from those concerned about how they would change the environment of the areas served. And change them they did. Lake Okeechobee and its surroundings developed into Florida’s most important agricultural zone. The TVA area became a much improved agricultural area as well as an industrial hub focused on production that required massive input of electric power such as aluminum and enriched uranium. And the Hoover Dam produced the Imperial Valley, one of California’s richest farm areas.
Believe it or not at this same time the first road links between New Jersey and New York City were built, the George Washington Bridge, the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. Until then one made the crossing by train or ferry. The road connections also faced considerable opposition from those worried by their affect on the environment. Needless to say one can hardly conceive of this connection being only made by ferry or train in today’s world.
And while New York was being connected by road to its west and south the Golden Gate Bridge was built spanning the most magnificent entry of the sea into the land on the entire West Coast. And believe it, the project had substantial opposition based on it changing the environment, most importantly impinging on the natural beauty of this great wonder of nature.
In spite of the Great Depression, America completed some of the greatest engineering feats of all time while it was suffering its worse economic nightmare.
Compare this to today. We are in the depths of the “Great Recession” but instead of engaging in Promethean tasks. we are hamstrung by regulations that protect the environment at the expense of forgoing undertakings that could make significant improvements in our economic base.
A prime example here is expansion of the Keystone Pipeline. The pipeline would provide not just jobs in its building, as did all of the projects I list completed during the Great Depression, but would also provide a more reliable source of energy needed for reviving our industry.
Where is the vision that we had at the worse economic moment in our history? Then, we did not hestitate to take on major alteration of our land in pursuit of making it more productive. We must take the same bold action we did during the Great Depression to create major motors for our economy, even if these alter the environment.