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Civic talks clean water fight at meeting

May 11, 2016
By ED FRANKS (efranks@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

About 75 people attended the season's final Tuesday evening meeting of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association. Guests included John W. Scott, Sierra Club Calusa Group chair, and Ray Judah, a former Lee County Commis-sioner and coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition.

After a brief meeting, Roger Wood, president of the GPICA, outlined the water conditions in Southwest Florida.

"The water surrounding our islands is of very poor quality," he said. "Commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, boaters, people who have waterfront property and our tourist industry are all affected by our poor water quality. Tonight, John Scott and Ray Judah are here to explain what's going on."

Article Photos

John W. Scott, Sierra Club – Calusa Group chair, speaks at the meeting.

ED FRANKS

According to Scott, the Sierra Club has been "working to protect communities, wild places, and the planet itself." The club is the oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States.

Locally the Sierra Club Calusa Group is one of 17 local Sierra Club groups in Florida.

"The Sierra Club faces a wide range of issues but water is an issue that is near and dear to our hearts in this area," Scott said. "I grew up in Florida and have lived here my entire life and it's tragic what has happened to our waterways. There is also an economic impact that we often don't take into account."

Scott's slide show showed green algae problems from previous years and the severe effects the draining of Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River had this year. "This year, it happened because of a record El Nino and an inordinate amount of rain in January," Scott said. "The solution for this is allowing the water in Lake Okeechobee to drain down into the areas south of the lake all the way to the Everglades National Park. This requires purchasing land south of the lake."

As a member of the Captains for Clean Water, Scott and several members made a trip to Tallahassee to meet with legislators about the deteriorating state of our waterways. The mission statement for Captains for Clean Water is: "The problem is known. The solution is known."

"The funding is available through Amendment 1," Scott said. "All that's missing is the political will to make it happen. We must acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee to store, treat and convey water south to the Everglades in order to save the fisheries and coastal communities of south Florida."

"On Feb. 23, several members of Captains for Clean Water and I went to Tallahassee to talk with legislators about how to improve the water quality in southwest Florida," Scott said. "The businesses of the Captains for Clean Water dries up when the water is as dark as a chocolate milkshake and, as Roger said, makes people's eyes tear. One of our commissioners, Frank Mann, even attributed the discolored water to tannins. We all know that tannins makes water look like tea and this is definitely not the color of tea.

"Our trip to Tallahassee was not very productive," Scott said. "Our hope was to have them endorse 'bonding' the funds needed to get this done. We met with Rep. Dane Eagle, Rep. Fitzenhagen, Rep. Benequisto, Rep. Bullard and Rep. Caldwell. What we all came away with was how our politicians give us lip service and sidestep giving real answers. The message of Captains for Clean Water is clear, 'Buy the Land Send it South.' This trip gave the captains an idea of what we are facing in Tallahassee."

Scott then introduced Judah, who has been a spokesperson for clean water in Southwest Florida for many years.

"It's going to be registered voters who get this done," Judah said. "You have to talk to your family, friends and acquaintances, to be actively working for cleaner water."

"In the lands south of Lake Okeechobee, there are 700,000 acres of Everglades Agricultural area, 440,000 acres are sugar cane fields and south of that is 950,000 acres of water conservation area before you get to the Everglades," Judah said.

"Nature never connected Lake Okeechobee with the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie rivers," Judah said. "Before these were connected, when the lake would overflow, it would drain down to the Everglades. After Castro took over Cuba, there was an interest in creating sugar cane fields in the Everglades Agricultural area. Those sugar cane field actually severed the connection between the lake and the Everglades. Approxi-mately 45 percent of the water is discharged to the west and 25 percent is discharged to the east with the remainder, about 30 percent, going to the Everglades Agricultural area. The Everglades today is less than half the area it used to be."

Judah said that the state must find a way to stop the excessive releases into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers by purchasing land south of Lake Okeechobee so water could be released to the estuaries and provide more water to the Everglades. That could be accomplished by purchasing land south of the lake.

"That's what Amendment 1 money was intended for," Judah said. "It is intended for this type of purchase but was used instead to balance the state's budget even though the 75 percent of the voters that voted for Amendment 1 have in fact been overruled by the state Legislature."

Judah's next slide was a Googly-Earth image of northwest Cape Coral, Matlacha Isles, Matlacha and the area in Cape Coral known as the Seven Islands project. The Seven Islands project runs west of, and parallel to, Burnt Store Road between Embers Parkway and Tropicana Parkway. These Seven Islands are actually seven man-made islands (approximately 48 acres) created when the spreader was dredged.

The city of Cape Coral purchased the property in 2012 and has been planning development. As of today there are five plans that include condominiums, shopping, hotels and buildings up to 12 stories. One of the five plans will be selected.

"This is a monumental, horrific scenario," Judah said. "This slide also shows the damage to date but it doesn't take much to understand how development of this Seven Islands project will effect Matlacha Pass. The runoff, the cuts through the mangroves, the missing Ceitus boat lift are a recipe for disaster."

Phil Buchanan identified the Seven Islands project area in the slide.

"There is a Florida environmental group threatening a lawsuit against the city of Cape Coral for permit violations," Buchanan said. "Our suit and this suit could force a judge to issue a moratorium on this type of development. Cape Coral actually invented an organization called 'Cape-Lacha," Buchanan said. "The area starts up at Embers Parkway and comes down to Pine Island Road. This includes the small boat ramp area next to D&D that the city of Cape Coral recently purchased. It gets very close to Matlacha."

A question was raised regarding the status of the property on Pine Island Road, directly across the street from Cambio Dermatology (the old Bank of America building).

"Right now they are clearing that land for the development of a shopping center," Buchanan said. "Behind that shopping center there will be condominiums but I don't think those will be built until they have leases on the commercial development and I don't think that's going to happen for several years."

At the end of the meeting Buchanan was recognized for his many years of dedication to the preservation of Pine Island.

"Phil Buchanan has been a strong force on Pine Island for many years," Wood said. "The Pine Island Plan, the golf cart issue ... and we want to recognize Phil for his dedication for all of these years."

Buchahan was presented with a custom-made walking stick. At the top is a hand-carved wooden figure of the "Key Marco Cat," a half-human, half-panther figure thought to have religious significance to the Calusa Indians.

The purpose of the GPICA is to promote environmentally responsible planning or smart growth; shall promote preservation of sensitive natural areas and shall recognize and promote the unique character of our rural and agricultural island community and uphold those sections of the Lee County Plan that deal with Greater Pine Island and support those objectives.

The Greater Pine Island Civic Association meets the first Tuesday of the month, during the season from October to May, at 7 p.m., at the Elks Club at The Center.

For additional information about the group, visit www.GPICA.org or call 920-421-3984.

 
 

 

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