Once Again, Rick Scott Dismisses Opportunity To Address Toxic Algae Crisis

Stuart, FL – Bullsugar.org, a 501c4 based in Stuart, is asking Governor Rick Scott to address the toxic algae crisis by signing the “Now or Neverglades Declaration” and today released video of their direct ask to Scott at the ICAST 2016 sport fishing trade show in Orlando, which the Governor promptly refused.

“We gave Governor Scott the opportunity to sign the Now Or NeverGlades Declaration, and asked the Governor to restore the River of Grass, buy the land and move the water south. He smiled, and dismissed us to his staffer. Needless to say, we were disappointed with his response but it is sadly par for the course,” said Kenny Hinkle, Jr of Bullsugar.

The declaration, which calls for increased storage and treatment of water south of Lake Okeechobee along with increased capacity to flow the water south to Florida Bay, has gained over 15,000 signatures in less than 2 weeks. It was written by a group of concerned organizations and experts from the 3 most impacted areas: Fort Myers, the Florida Keys and Stuart and is supported by Everglades scientists and hundreds of leading fishing and conservation companies, with more signing every day.

“He has a lot of gall to come to this convention,” added Jo Neeson with Bullsugar. “The Orlando Convention Center was full of people and businesses who depend on healthy estuaries and clean water in Florida. For him to have come after repeatedly avoiding, delaying, and downright refusing to expedite buying the land south of Lake Okeechobee that experts say is necessary to preserve our way of life in Florida and to prevent the kinds of toxic algae blooms that we are seeing today – it is unconscionable.”

Florida’s $9.7 billion fishing industry (129,000 jobs), $10.4 billion boating industry (83,000 jobs) and $89.1 billion tourism industry (1.1 million jobs) cannot be sustained with fish kills and toxic water that “smells like death”.

Additionally, there are well known short and long term human health impacts from exposure to toxic algae and fumes. There is no excuse for delaying the best option to reduce these toxic algae discharges, but the state seems set to delay even planning for buying land south of Lake Okeechobee until 2021.

This week at ICAST, Bullsugar met with fellow fishermen and businesses that depend on Florida’s water quality to earn their living. All of them share concern about the water crisis threatening Florida’s coasts.

That explains why, since launching the declaration on July 6, key people including lawmakers like State House Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, the Mayor and City Commission of South Miami, the Martin County Commission; businesses like Patagonia, Orvis, Costa, Rapala, Florida Sportsman; national conservation organizations like Audubon, Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club; and celebrities like Erin Brockovitch, Flip Pallot, Boston Red Sox great Wade Boggs, Captain Bill from the Deadliest Catch, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Warren Sapp -- just to name a few -- have all signed the Now or Neverglades Declaration.

They know that we need to take action immediately to address the toxic algae that has polluted our beaches and destroyed livelihoods.

Some lawmakers understand the urgency of our water crisis. Bill Nelson has called on using eminent domain to buy the land. Gwen Graham has called for a special session. Republican Curt Clawson and Democrat Patrick Murphy introduced a bill last week to provide matching Federal funds if the Florida legislature and Rick Scott would agree to identify and buy the essential land south of Lake Okeechobee.

Meanwhile, politicians like Rick Scott continue to drag their heels and offer platitudes. Rick Scott, who received $980,000 from the sugar industry prior to the 2014 election and $960,000 since then to his "Let's Get to Work" PAC, continues to refuse to do what’s right for Florida’s fishermen and take responsibility for this preventable disaster. Instead he proposes red herring solutions that ignore scientific evidence, including NASA satellite photos showing a 200 square mile Lake Okeechobee algae bloom. Lake Okeechobee is the source of the untreated freshwater discharges and algae crisis unfolding in both Stuart and Fort Myers.

“When we approached Governor Scott he said he’d take a look at our declaration and consider it. We’re still waiting, Governor,” said Hinkle.

How long will Scott keep Floridian’s waiting for this problem to be solved?

FULL TEXT OF NOW OR NEVERGLADES DECLARATION

We support the 200-plus Everglades scientists who believe that increased storage, treatment and conveyance of water south of Lake Okeechobee is essential to stop the damaging discharges to the coastal estuaries; to restore the flow of clean, fresh water to Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys; to improve the health of Lake Okeechobee; and to protect the drinking water for 8 million Floridians living in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Using Amendment 1 and other funds, we must identify and secure land south of the lake without delay, before development in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) or other uncertainties condemn our waters to irrevocable destruction.

Three nationally vital estuaries are in long-term collapse due to the damming, diking and draining of the River of Grass. The Herbert Hoover Dike that contains Lake Okeechobee prevents fresh water from following its historic path southward through the Everglades.

Today, Lake Okeechobee is treated as an impounding reservoir constantly at risk of overflow. To manage lake levels, too much untreated fresh water is discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Consequently, the lack of fresh water flow through the Everglades makes Florida Bay, the largest contiguous seagrass meadow in the world and crown jewel of Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys, too salty.

The resulting salinity imbalances in all three estuaries cause seagrass die-offs, dangerous algal blooms, multi-year ecosystem collapse and economic hardship. Florida’s $9.7 billion fishing industry (129,000 jobs), $10.4 billion boating industry (83,000 jobs) and $89.1 billion tourism industry (1.1 million jobs) need healthy estuaries.

Additionally, sending water south would improve the water supply for 8 million people (1 out of 3 Floridians) by reducing the threat of saltwater intrusion into drinking wells and the Everglades.

The solution to all these problems is stated simply in a petition signed by 207 respected Everglades scientists on March 12, 2015:

“As a scientist working in the Everglades, it is my scientific opinion that increased storage and treatment of fresh water south of Lake Okeechobee, and additional flow from the lake southward, is essential to restoring the Everglades, Florida Bay, and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

Estimates of land required are approximately 15 percent of the EAA, neither eliminating farming nor harming Glades communities. This amount is less than half of the acreage that U.S. Sugar has offered to sell to the State of Florida, in an agreement that remains in effect until October 11, 2020.

Water storage, treatment and conveyance in the EAA is the best option to reduce the damaging releases to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and to improve the water flow south. Especially considering the recent devastation to the coastal estuaries and ongoing massive seagrass die-off in Everglades National Park, planning for EAA projects must be expedited and be given top priority over planning for other new Everglades restoration projects.

We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The costs and risks of further delay are staggering. Development plans in the EAA threaten to change the region, permanently severing the link between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.

The science is settled. The money is available thanks to 75% of Florida voters who, in 2014, voted for Amendment 1. Identify and secure the land. It’s now or never.

# # #

Bullsugar.org is dedicated to stopping the damaging discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and restoring the flow of clean freshwater to Florida Bay. We aim to empower voters to take back our water and government and to ensure a lasting legacy of clean water and healthy estuaries for future generations.

 

CONTACT: Allie Preston, apreston@bullsugar.org

 

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