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Water quality protest held at Matlacha Bridge

By Staff | Aug 29, 2018

A group of protesters hold up their signs to motorists during a water protest Sunday on the Matlacha Bridge. CHUCK BALLARO

Following a successful protest three weeks ago, a Pine Island advocacy group was looking to continue to make water quality in Southwest Florida the key issue with another protest along the Matlacha Bridge.

Sunday, about 150 people, many carrying signs, showed up at the bridge to show lawmakers they are being held accountable for the blue-green algae and red tide in the water, and that their commitment to clean water will be the determining factor at the ballot box on Tuesday in the Primary Election and in the General Election in November.

“We want the public to be up to date on what’s going on with the water quality and flows when it’s time to vote,” said Judy Ott. “We need to share our responsibilities for taking care of water quality and the water sheds in the area.”

Pine Island’s ROAR group once again organized the bridge event with hundreds of vehicles passing through on both sides honking their horns in support of the protestors.

Melanie Hoff, one of the co-organizers, said ROAR (Rise-Up, Organize, Agitate and Resist), which was founded after the 2016 presidential election and advocates for progressive causes, held this event because water quality effects everyone regardless.

Marge Fessman of St. James City uses a respirator to help her breathe. That didn’t stop her from protesting water quality Sunday on the Matlacha Bridge. CHUCK BALLARO

“Water is a bi-partisan issue. We need and want clean water and our elected officials need to be held accountable. The status quo is unacceptable,” Hoff said.

The Aug. 5 event drew more than 100 people pretty much through word of mouth. This time around, ROAR used social media and other promotion to bring everyone back out, Hoff said.

Throughout the Pine Island area, people have been affected by the blue-green algae. People aren’t using their boats or fishing or enjoying the water in other ways. Restaurants and other businesses are suffering and many people aren’t even going outside anymore.

Medical experts are saying long-term health ramifications from breathing in the toxins created by the decaying fish and algae could result in neurological diseases such as ALS

“We have 14 straight days of water releases from Lake Okeechobee. If there was an ounce of recovery, that’s pretty much gone,” said Guylyn DeMeyere, a ROAR facilitator from St. James City. “On this issue we have to vote clean water, not Republican or Democrat. As things stand, the ones who have the strongest plan are the Democrats.”

April Williams of St. James City holds up her sign to motorists during a water protest Sunday on the bridge. CHUCK BALLARO

Area residents have noticed how things have changed in the last six weeks.

Marge Fessman of St. James City, who moved from New Jersey two years ago so she can use her boat year round, can’t go outside without wearing a respirator. The friend she was with had to go home because she has COPD and couldn’t breathe in the air.

“This started about a month ago when our canal got a reddish tinge and I have asthma. The algae is starting to float over to our canal,” Fessman said, who later joined the protest, ventilator and all. “There are no more birds around and nobody is walking outside. It makes you feel nauseous.”

Capt. Dino Joannides of Bonita Springs wore a shirt that read “Water is a Basic Human Right” while leading the chants on the bridge. He said the algae has decimated his business.

“Business was great until about six weeks ago. It was so good I bought a new boat. Now, its sitting on a lift and I’ve had to cancel charters. I figured I might as well be out here to get the word out,” Joannides said, who has attended all the protests and events. “Hopefully, we’ll elect politicians who will do what they’re supposed to do.”