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Matlacha Civic holds final meeting of season

May 2, 2018
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

Last Wednesday evening, the Matlacha Civic Association held its final meeting of the season. The main speaker was local activist John Heim, who heads the Southwest Florida Clean Water Movement.

Heim has been involved in the Florida clean water movement for 32 years.

"I came here more than 30 years ago from Philly," Heim said. "I became a clean water activist by default because like everybody else, every five years or so I watched discharges from Lake Okeechobee turn our water brown and now it seems like it occurs every year."

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John Heim

Heim outlined the causes of Florida's water as rapid development in Southwest Florida, agricultural and urban runoff into the Caloosahatchee watershed containing fertilizers that feed and exacerbate algae blooms and red tide and discharges from Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee.

For thousands of years when Lake Okeechobee would overflow, the excess water would spill over along the lake's southern border in what is called "sheet flow." That water would make its way south, cleansing itself, eventually reaching and nourishing the Everglades. Today, that same water is released into the St. Lucie River to the west and the Caloosahatchee River to the east.

"Toxic discharges of toxic water from Lake Okeechobee impacts Florida's economy, health and environment," Heim said. "In 2016, Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency in four counties. Ninety percent of the hotels on Fort Myers Beach reported cancellations because of the water conditions, wildlife was dying due to blue-green algae and this had a tremendously negative impact on tourism."

The state Legislature has considered a number of plans to minimize the discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The latest is to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee at a cost of $1.6 billion. When Lake Okeechobee's waters reach a certain level, the lake will drain into the reservoir.

Heim maintains the reservoir is too small to solve the problems.

The activist suggests citizens of Florida become involved by writing their state and federal representatives and letters to the editor of local newspapers.

In additional business at the MCA?meeting, Matlacha residents Michael Hannon, Greg Stuart and Leo Amos met with state Rep. Ray Rodriguez. According to Hannon, Rodriguez "indicated to us that the sentiment in Tallahassee among the representatives is against having additional municipalities in the state of Florida and as the speaker of the house, he was a bit reluctant to propose incorporation within his district."

Hannon also met with Rep. Dane Eagle. Efforts to schedule a meeting with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto have been unsuccessful.

The status of the annexation lawsuit Matlacha Civic Association filed against Cape Coral is still pending. The MCA lawsuit challenges the annexation and asks for a declaratory judgement asking the court to rule that the purchase of the property and holding them is illegal. The pleadings have been concluded and according to Hannon a response from the court could take up to two years. (See the related story on page 2 of today's Pine Island Eagle).

Ndakhte Ndiaye, a resident of Woodstock Road, adjacent to the newly proposed Lee County Mosquito Control airstrip, provided an update on the status of the airstrip lawsuit.

"We are waiting to hear the outcome of our case," he said. "We don't know how long it will be before the judge rules on the case."



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