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GPICA discusses water quality, airstrip update

September 12, 2018
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

The Greater Pine Island Civic Association invited Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani to its meeting last week to discuss the water quality issues Southwest Florida has recently been facing. Beaches in Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties have seen record levels of dead sea life for the last several months due to red tide and blue-green algae blooms.

Cassani is a career scientist and director/officer committee chair of the Calusa Waterkeeper. The group was previously known as CRCA-Riverwatch.

"The Calusa River Watch was started in 1997 and after getting our full licensing in 2016 became the Calusa Waterkeeper, Inc.," Cassani said. "A lot of what I do is policy development and the Waterkeepers in Florida are trying to get the 'Harmful Algae Bloom' (HAB) task force reinstated."

Article Photos

An aerial view of a portion of the Caloosahatchee River on June 22.


The state Legislature created the HAB task force "for the purpose of determining research, monitoring, control, and mitigation strategies for red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida waters."

In 2018, Southwest Florida has been faced with the worst cyanobacteria and red tide exposures in many years.

"When we talk about a bloom, we're talking about a population explosion," Cassani said. "I did a flyover on June 22 and flew about 40 miles of river and I'll never forget what I saw - it was staggering.

"The extent and intensity of this cyanobacteria bloom is unbelievable that's why cyanobacteria is called the 'cells from hell'," Cassani said. "These are harmful algae blooms that can have severe impacts on human health, and aquatic life.

"These blooms are not to be taken lightly," Cassani said. "There are many scientists that now think that harmful algae blooms are the greatest threat to the water quality."

Both the cyanobacteria and the red tide produce toxins.

"These are some of the most toxic compounds on the planet," Cassani said. "Unfortunately, they are unregulated and can affect liver function. We're seeing communities in Florida where these toxins are in the public water supply and we're seeing statistically higher incidence of liver cancer.

"Public notification is another big problem in Florida," Cassani said. "The one-day recreational exposure guideline is 4 mg/l that's 4 parts per billion. We did some sampling on June 25 and we were getting levels at 40,000 parts per billion. That's how toxic this can be."

Florida Fish and Wildlife recommends: "The best way to prevent exposure to blue-green algae toxins is to avoid water where scum, foam or algae mats are present or where water is a greenish color."

The Florida Department of Health offers these additional precautions:

- Do not drink, cook or shower with untreated water from lakes, ponds or streams.

- Do not allow pets or livestock to swim in or drink scummy water.

- If you or your animals accidentally get into a blue-green algae bloom, wash with fresh water and soap after skin contact, and avoid swallowing or inhaling water. Wash animals' fur thoroughly before they start to groom themselves.

- Avoid exposure to irrigation water drawn from untreated sources.

- Notify your local water quality officials if you notice unusual changes in the taste or smell of your tap water.

"You don't want to get it on you, you don't want to inhale it, and you don't want to ingest it," Cassani said. "Calusa Waterkeepers is all about drinkable, fishable, swimmable water."

Cassani doesn't recommend eating fish from local waters.

"The $64,000 question becomes: 'Is it here? Is it in our fish, is it in our water?' It absolutely is!"

Cassani believes the economic effects Southwest Florida is experiencing today won't reach full impact until some time next year.

Calusa Waterkeepers is having an "Economic Town Hall" meeting at the Royal Palms Dinner Theater Monday, Oct. 15, starting at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited. For additional information, visit the Calusa Waterkeeper website:

Woodstock airstrip update

In other GPICA business, Woodstock Road resident Ndakhte Ndiaye provided an update on the pending appeal of the lawsuit filed by residents of the neighborhood surrounding Woodstock airstrip. Residents have filed the lawsuit to stop the sale of the airstrip from Frank and Ila Valcarcel to Lee County Mosquito Control.

"The appeal is in process so we asked the upper courts for a 30-day extension to amend the dismissal so that it would have finality that was granted, which is very good," Ndiaye said. "A date has not been set for the hearing."

A memo was also circulated by GPICA that made several claims against LCMCD. Eric Jackson, public information officer for Lee County Mosquito Control, replied in a statement to the allegations.

Jackson wrote: "Recently a memo was distributed to members of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association that provided misleading and, in some cases, blatantly false statements and accusations against the Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD). The following are direct responses from LCMCD to these accusations.

In the memo, GPICA stated that "At the present time the LCMCD is flying helicopters so loaded down with granular insecticides that they can not take off vertically, but rather have to use the entire length of the proposed runway to take off."

Jackson replied: "The District has been using helicopters to deploy granular insecticides for years from existing heliports throughout the county. The memo falsely states that the helicopters need to use the entire Woodstock runway to "barely take off."

The GPICA memo also stated, "We do not know if the LCMCD pilots have completed the FAA required pilot training on the new aircraft."

Jackson's reply: "The memo claims that there is 'FAA required pilot training' for the new helicopters. There is no such thing. All of the District pilots are certified to fly rotor-winged and fixed wing aircraft, and received extensive training from Airbus, the manufacturers of the new helicopters, prior to operating the aircraft."

The co-owner of the airstrip, Ila Valcarcel, attempted to respond to some of those claims during the meeting but was told she was "out of order."

"During the past 2 years there have been many false and misleading statements regarding our family and property," Valcarcel said. "There have been numerous calls and complaints against us personally to code enforcement, claims of 'un-permitted' buildings and even claims that the airport is 'illegal' although it's been in existence and established since 1975 and is licensed by the state of Florida and permitted by Lee County."

"I am grateful to my neighbors, some of whom have lived here since the airport was founded, who've supported us through this but are afraid to raise their voices because of the vicious personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with the anti-airport group," she continued.

"The behavior exhibited at the GPICA meeting was unequivocal proof of the personal attacks against us and is unacceptable in any forum," she said. "We ask that these 'groups' that are opposing the purchase by LCMCD keep their fight respectful and out of our personal space.

Eric Jackson suggested anyone who has any questions about LCMCD's operations call Mosquito Control at 694-2174.

The next Lee County Mosquito Control District an Lee County Hyacinth Control District board's monthly meeting is today, Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 4:45 p.m., at 15191 Homestead Road, Lehigh Acres.

"For those who would like to attend the meeting, a carpool is available leaving from Winn-Dixie at 3:15 p.m.," Ndiaye said. "Please contact Lisa Steen at: or Ndakhte Ndiaye at



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