(By Ed Ryan) On Monday Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy spent more time discussing the television show American Idol than he did talking about the number one issue facing all of Southwest Florida, the potential for another summer of red tide. The current situation has many other local elected officials worried and taking action.
On the water issue, Murphy said “we’re all watching the goings on at Lake Okeechobee, the blue-green algae that’s cooking up there and the red tide off of our shores down here at the moment. So, we’re all holding our collective breath hoping we don’t have any adverse impacts from that. Let’s keep up the communications to our higher elected officials and the powers to be. We are watching. We don’t want a repeat of 2018.”
Murphy didn’t say how or if town officials were actively participating in the water discussions or if the town was taking any action to lobby the Army Corps of Engineers or state and federal officials. Town Manager Roger Hernstadt didn’t even mention the water issue during the entire meeting Monday.
In 2018, the local area was devastated by red tide with truckloads of dead fish being carted off Fort Myers Beach by the dumpster load. Businesses suffered as beachgoers chose to stay away to avoid the putrid smell and possible respiratory issues. The Lake Okeechobee water level is higher now than it was in 2018. And while the lake was managed well in 2019 and 2020, not everyone believes it’s been managed well in 2021.
Compare the Fort Myers Beach approach of “holding our collective breath” to the aggressive action Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith is taking to be sure her community has a loud and clear voice when the water issue is being discussed.
Last week Smith made sure she had a seat at the table with Governor DeSantis when he was in town to discuss the water issue. Captains For Clean Water, Senator Ray Rodriguez, Adam Botana and Jenna Persons-Mulicka were also part of the meeting. Fort Myers Beach was not represented.
Smith has also written a strongly worded letter to the Army Corps of Engineers which is responsible for managing the lake. Her letter references the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (also known as LOSOM) the Corps is writing to manage the lake and the impact that will have on the Caloosahatchee.
“While we understand the Corps’ intent over the next three weeks is to use the available modeling to make needed improvements to the “balanced frameworks,” it is difficult to understand how this can be achieved given that the starting point is so highly unbalanced. We are discouraged by the lack of transparency by the Corps in how these “balanced frameworks” were developed and selected to move forward. We respectfully request the Corps be transparent as to why these framework alternatives were selected over alternatives with more demonstrated benefit to all stakeholders and why no framework was selected to reflect the west coast stakeholders’ perspective of balance.”
The new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual will determine when discharges will happen from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries for the next decade. A final version of the manual is expected in July.
Smith also notes in her letter that an algae bloom is present covering more than 500 square miles. She plans to reach out to other local municipalities to get them to either sign on to her letter to the Army Corps of Engineers or write one of their own.
It’s our understanding that Lee County Board Chairman Kevin Ruane has also written a letter to the Corps, which we have made a request for.
You can read Mayor Smith’s letter in its entirety HERE.
Congressman Brian Mast joined Beach Talk Radio on March 9th to discuss the water issue. You can watch that episode HERE. Mast is having a lot of success keeping his side of the state clean.
On March 2, Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani and Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Jim Atterholt both joined us to discuss the water issue. You can watch that episode HERE.
In February, Atterholt spearheaded a campaign to keep the water issue top of mind with local residents.