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Friday, 19 February 2016 09:06

Lake O Releases Raise Rancor Throughout Lee County

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The impact of fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee on the estuaries and coastal communities has been a long time concern for many residents and visitors here in Southwest Florida. These releases have had dire effects for both the environment and the aesthetics of the area. Last week, nearly 70 thousand gallons of this discharged water poured through the locks around Lake Okeechobee per second, and the six mayors of Lee County have announced to take action in hopes of finding solutions and relief for their constituents.

This past Monday, Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson Jr. held a news conference at Fort Myers City Hall, where he was joined by a crowd consisting of Captains for Clean Water and other local environmental watchdogs. Here he announced his intention to bring these concerns about the releases to Tallahassee and Washington D.C.

“This is not a new problem,” Henderson said, recalling his meetings with various business people and boat captains in recent days, telling him that their businesses were being impacted by cancellations resulting from the coastal conditions caused by the releases. While Henderson pulled some hope from a meeting with State Representative Matt Hudson 2 weeks ago in Tallahassee in regards to projects underway in the Kissimmee River Basin that might alleviate these releases, the recent crisis has prompted calls for more immediate action.

Henderson promised at the press conference to bring these stories to the legislatures on both the State and Federal levels. ” "When I go to Washington next Sunday, when I go to Tallahassee, the questions we are going have is how can we expedite these construction projects so that we can solve this problem sooner than later."

“This environmental disaster is directly tied to Florida’s economy,” Chris Wittman, a fisherman with the Captains for Clean Water, said. He stated that he had convinced Mayor Henderson to support U.S. Representative Curt Clawson’s position to purchase land south of Okeechobee that would convey and filter lake water to the Everglades. “The mayors don’t have the jurisdiction to make this stuff happen on their own, but with them helping us make the citizens voices heard, we can make it happen.”

“We want immediate action to identify and purchase the land needed to transport the water to the Everglades, which desperately needs it,” Daniel Andrews of the Captains for Clean Water said. “The funds are there and the plan is there. We just need the political action.”

Some attending the event were a bit more guarded about the probability of the state legislature taking action.

“If we don’t start voting, and throw them out if they don’t do anything, this will continue,” Steve Bailey said. “This has been talked to death.”

The press conference came after an emergency meeting by the mayors of Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Sanibel, and Estero last week in response to the water releases.

These releases come in the wake of an unusually wet winter in the area, where the cool weather and frequent storms brought Lake Okeechobee to the brink of flooding. The conditions have gotten so severe there that this past week Governor Rick Scott has insisted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers release water to the south into the Everglades, in order to give some measure of relief to the estuaries. These types of releases are usually reserved for major storm events such as hurricanes, and have never occurred during the dry season.

Trent Townsend

 

Read 3187 times Last modified on Sunday, 21 February 2016 08:19

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