Marco Island News, George Bush Tours the Everglades

 (L-R) US President George W. Bush, Park Superintendent Maureen Finnerty, Deputy Superintendent Larry Belli and Florida Governor Jeb Bush tour a reclamation area of Everglades National Park. President Bush said today that his budget for 2002 will provide more than 219 million dollars for restoring the Everglades. 

The Republican president, who is tending his image as both environmentalist and bipartisan, pledged to state activists gathered canalside that he would not abandon the massive, 40-year ecosystem restoration under way here.

``Our job here is to be good stewards of the Everglades, to restore what has been damaged and to reduce the risk of harm,'' said Bush, whose budget for 2002 proposes $219 million for the Everglades project, a $58-million increase over current funding.

``The work that needs to be done (by Bush) is not just between Democrats and Republicans but within the Republican caucus,'' said Florida's Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat, who traveled with Bush deep into the Everglades' sawgrass prairies.

Graham and Bill Nelson, Florida's other Democratic U.S. senator, both applauded Bush for his unequivocal statement of support Monday for Everglades restoration. But Nelson said it didn't quite jibe with Bush's call to open some waters off the Florida coast for oil drilling.

``It's a mentality of drilling our way out of the energy crisis,'' Nelson told reporters, shaking his head.

Some two miles away from where the Bushes staged their Everglades announcement, dozens of demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as ``Bush oil and our water don't mix'' and ``It's the environment, stupid.''

Others were dressed as oil barrels to greet the presidential motorcade.

There also were Bush supporters who brandished signs saying ``Sportsmen for President Bush'' and ``George W. & Jeb, thanx for Everglades restoration.''

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