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Issue 654

08/22/2013 at 3:16pm

River DumpingWater Wars Escalate

With smelly, brown, nutrient-polluted water pouring into the Caloosahatchee from Lake Okeechobee and no end in sight, the water wars are heating up all over the state of Florida. Just this week, Governor Rick Scott sent a scathing letter to the Army Corps of Engineers' Southeastern Headquarters in Atlanta accusing them of 'not doing their job'. Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel has appeared on countless news networks begging folks to write their congressmen and local conservationists and politicians have been busy planning meetings and rallies to get people behind the idea that something needs to change and it needs to change soon.

Save Our Bay
SWFL Citizens for Clean Water

This Saturday, two groups - one from Sanibel and the other from Fort Myers Beach - plan to gather at the first Sanibel causeway island to show their support for clean water initiatives and rally others to write letters and emails demanding a solution. The Sanibel group, called 'Save Our Bay', was organized by Inside Island Photography owner Johnathan Tongyai who emailed 500 Sanibel and Captiva residents asking them to take part.

"I've been a professional photographer on Sanibel for 10 years, and you can really notice the change when you're out there taking pictures everyday,” he said. "And I'm dealing with people who spend their hard-earned money to come down here, then they see the water and are disgusted. It is heart wrenching. You think of the environment and everything."

Tongyai told us that he decided to organize the rally in hopes that those who have the power to enact change will listen.

"I see on TV when people are unhappy, they go to the streets and let everyone know about it,” he said. "We are the taxpayers, we are their constituents and the only way we can make them see is to come together as a community. We are going out there to protest the whole situation.”

Tongyai's event caught the attention of local activist John Heim, who decided to move an event he was planning for downtown Fort Myers and join with Sanibel instead. His group, 'SWFL Citizens for Clean Water' and their campaign opposing 'Eco-Terrorism Against Tourism' will join with Save Our Bay at 8am on Saturday, August 24 on the Sanibel causeway island.

"We are asking folks to come out to not only bring awareness to our area but to the other coast as well,” he told us. "Lake O runoff that has destroyed our ecosystem, our own ways of life, and crippled our economy. This Saturday we will stage a demonstration to bring awareness to our shared water issues. All walks of life will meet at the Sanibel causeway bridge at 8am to share in our demands for change.”

Saturday's event is scheduled to begin at 8am and last throughout the day. Folks are encouraged to bring their own signs, coolers and whatever else they need. Some local dignitaries are expected to attend.

Sugarland Rally

Heim told us that he expects Saturday's event to be a prelude to a big statewide rally planned for September 1st in Clewiston. Called the 'Sugarland Rally', it is being organized by Expedition Florida 500's Justin Riney and is planned for noon-3pm at Sugarland Park.

"The Sugarland Rally will unite the east and west coasts of Florida in a peaceful, historic demonstration to speak out against the pollution of our estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges,” Justin wrote on his Facebook page. "We chose Clewiston as a central location to unify east and west at Lake Okeechobee - the source that is polluting our estuaries, and because we believe Florida's sugar industry can be part of the solution.”

Riney is careful to point out that the rally is not meant to be a protest against Big Sugar, but rather reaching out to them to join with other Floridians in creating change.

At press time, 680 people from all over the state had signed up to attend the Sugarland Rally. For more information, go to bit.ly/sugarlandrally.

Coastal Estuaries in Peril

On Monday night, August 26th at Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island, former Lee County Commissioner and environmentalist Ray Judah will moderate a public forum called 'Coastal Estuaries in Peril'. The event, which will be held in the Inn's Wakefield Room, will feature panel discussions by Jennifer Hecker, Natural Resource Policy Manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida; Rae Ann Wessel, Director of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and Greg F. Rawl, Vice-Chairman of the Southwest Watershed Council. Cocktails are at 5:30pm with the session being held from 6-7:30pm. The panel will be in an open forum format, meaning questions are welcome.

Army Corps of Engineers

On Wednesday afternoon, the Sand Paper participated in a teleconference with Army Corps of Engineers' Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, Jacksonville District Deputy Commander for South Florida. He reported that water releases into both rivers would be decreasing due to the lack of recent rainfall and lake levels going down. At press time, Lake Okeechobee was at 15.67 feet, down from a high level on August 10th of 16.05 feet.

"As far as projections go, we are expecting to continue to see average rainfall so we anticipate the releases to continue but since we've been maximizing our flows we hope they will not be as high,” he said. "We've also opened two additional structures on the Tamiami Trail to increase the flows south to Shark Slough.”


Keri Hendry Weeg