During his first visit to the Florida Everglades, Vice President Joe Biden saw alligators, learned about sawgrass, and received a briefing on the 30-year plan to restore the "River of Grass."
The small audience of applauding, picture-taking supporters and company of Florida's Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Alcee Hastings gave a campaign stop feel in the state that will play a major role in this year's presidential election.
"Not one project got started until we came to office," Biden told the crowd, referring to the Everglades restoration plan launched in 2000. "Since we have made a commitment of $1.5 billion, that has a profound economic impact on the state."
Though Everglades restoration projects were in the planning and permitting process during the George Bush administration, those involved with the effort credit President Obama's administration for the financial kick start.
"A lot of that construction was able to occur in part because of the injection of additional funds, Recovery Act funds for example," said Shannon Estenoz, Director of Everglades Restoration Initiatives.
Estenoz, who schooled the Vice President during his airboat ride, said he asked good questions about the wildlife and water flow in the Everglades.
Biden spoke about the federally-funded Tamiami bridge project under way that will eventually replace existing road and berm, and allow fresh water to free flow again the north to south Everglades.
The Florida Everglades is the primary water source for South Florida.
"The rainfall over the Everglades recharges the Biscyane Aquifer, the underlying aquifer, and that is the water supply source tens of millions of people,'" explained Robert Johnson with Everglades National Park.
“It’s not just about preserving what we have. It's about reclaiming what used to be," said Biden
He also estimated restoration projects will translate into more than $46 billion to Florida's economy.
“What we’re talking about here is an economic engine that generates millions of tourists to Florida who are renting hotel rooms, buying food, renting autos, taking out airboats, and everything else you can imagine that goes along with it,” Biden said.
The Republican National Committee Chair criticized the event in an email that read, "Vice President Biden's taxpayer funded trip to the swing state of Florida today demonstrates how worried the Obama campaign is about its chances in November."
“Tell him to come down and take a look at the good work we’re doing,” Biden responded.