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Friday, 25 March 2016 08:00

Environmental Advocates React to Caldwell at FGCU

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State Representative Matt Caldwell State Representative Matt Caldwell

Last Thursday, State Representative Matt Caldwell made his way to Florida Gulf Coast University to talk with students there about various water projects the Florida Legislature was working on around the state, including the controversial Water Bill that was recently passed, everglades restoration, and the C-43 reservoir. However, it wasn’t just students in the audience at the upstairs room of the Cohen Center.

"This year, we had the opportunity to shepard through the Legislature the statewide Comprehensive Water Bill," Caldwell said, explaining the breadth of the issues rolled up into the bill to the students.

Various environmentalists and advocates also attended the meeting in order to fact-check Caldwell’s own views on these projects, including the Sierra Club’s John Scott and former County Commissioner and former Coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition Ray Judah.

And while Caldwell’s assessments of what the legislature and he himself have done over the past few years for water in Southwest Florida painted a picture of progress for the young men and women of FGCU, his critics were quick to point out that it was only a veneer to hide the wider-ranging issues that have been hitting the coastal communities of our area so hard.

While Caldwell continues to play up the benefits of the Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP) and the Best Management Practices (BMP) put into place by the recent Water Bill, and the benefits that the storage provided by the C-43 reservoir will provide to freshwater south of Lake Okeechobee, others point out the deficiencies inherent in the plans that are now in the books to handle the water problems facing Lee County and the rest of South Florida.

"His whole theory of Everglades restoration hinges almost entirely on storage north of Lake Okeechobee," Sierra Club's John Scott said after the meeting. "Granted, that's a big part of the discussion, but the most difficult and meaningful part will take place south of the lake, and needs to take priority. However, the forces that be south of the Lake are preventing that acquisition."

"The land north of the Lake is easier to acquire because the sugar industry isn't involved there," Scott continued.

Judah's criticisms focused on the toothlessness he sees in the Water Bill that was recently passed. "If there are no deadlines for the total maximum daily loads, and BMAPs are predicated on being able to reduce the nutrient loading, there is no enforcement. There are no standards, no guidelines."

"I think Caldwell's trying to trivialize the counterpoints to his position by saying that it's an inordinate burden to the polluters," Judah said. "However, it's the polluters such as Big Sugar that are responsible for 70 percent of the pollution. Under the Water Bill, the taxpayers will be on the hook for paying for nearly 100 percent of the cleanup costs. That is not an equitable situation."

"There is no focus on the most cost effective approach to cleaning up pollution, and that is at its source," Judah concluded. "Instead it focuses on the bottom end of the watershed, where taxpayers and government have to comply with standards that Agriculture does not."

"Without performance standards, there is no basis to address pollution in a proactive way," Judah concluded. "The Water Bill instead enacts a reactive, unenforceable approach."

Trent Townsend

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