(By Kim Ryan) The timing and location couldn’t have been any better for the announcement Governor Ron DeSantis made at Doc Ford’s on Fort Myers Beach regarding his veto of SB 2508.
This surprising revelation happened minutes before the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce luncheon held just down the street at the Marriott Sanibel Harbor Resort. Eric Eikenberg CEO of The Everglades Foundation and Chauncey Goss South Florida Water management district Chairman were the guest speakers. They presented “Water Quality Update Policy and Projects” to Chamber members, many of whom were still exuberant having been at the press conference earlier. The event was sponsored by Captains For Clean Water.
Also interesting was that this luncheon and update was originally scheduled for February, but had to be rescheduled so Goss, Eikenberg, Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith and Captains for Clean Water co-founder Chris Wittman could get to Tallahassee to speak out against SB 2508.
Wittman in addressing luncheon attendees highlighted the impact and power the people in this state can have. “Today is an example of your voices being heard.” He referred to the bill as a ‘bad” bill. A bill that would undo much of the good work done by many stakeholders and government agencies over the last 3 years to develop a balanced approach to managing Lake Okeechobee in creating LOSOM (Lake Okeechobee Systems Operating Manual) which takes effect in January.
Eikenberg spoke about the impact businesses can have and the progress made towards Everglades restoration. He recounted a 2017 meeting, like the one held Wednesday, where businesses were asked to step up and he noted “the progress we have witnessed as it relates to the Everglades and water quality would not have happened without businesses.” He went on to talk about the bold steps taken by the Governor like when he “cleaned house at the SFWMD,” and called on the legislature to invest money in infrastructure. He pointed to the raising of Tamiami trail, which previously had “decapitated the water flow into Everglades National Park” and now with 3.5 miles of 12 foot bridges has “pulled the plug in the tub and you see fresh water flowing for the first time in 100 years, delivering water into Florida Bay where it needs to go.” He referred to the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) reservoir, which is slated to be finished in 2029, as “a project that will bring the most significant impact to this community, and others it is storing, cleaning and sending water south.”
Goss informed guests on the scope of the SFWMD which includes 16 counties managing 1.5 million acres and its primary goal of flood control which is important for water quality. He spoke about the progress being made on the many projects they’re involved in like the C43 reservoir in Hendry county that encompasses a large 6 mile by 3 mile area. The reservoir will be a place for recreation but, more importantly, provide storage needed for the estuary by capturing runoff and Lake O releases. This will reduce lake discharges improving the health of the Caloosahatchee Estuary. He also spoke about the success of the STA’s or Stormwater Treatment Areas which collect water coming out of the EAA and clean it before sending it south.
All of this progress and future progress relies on funding. Goss reiterated what the Governor spoke about earlier which is the over $3 billion budgeted toward these projects. Goss closed out his portion of the discussion by thanking those in attendance for what they have done through advocacy and by staying engaged, saying “it’s amazing how much momentum we have and we have to keep moving. This Governor is totally focused on it and you are all a part of that.”