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If new Lake Okeechobee plan passes to the detriment of Southwest Florida, hold those responsible accountable

By Staff | Aug 18, 2021

To the editor:

On Tuesday Congressperson Byron Donalds presented a panel to “answer questions” from the Cape Coral community about the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for controlling levels from Lake Okeechobee by dumping “all” future toxic releases into the Caloosahatchee. Col. Kelly, a local official and someone from Land Management all skillfully deflected questions about the effect of increasing pollution to our quality of air and water in implementing this new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) from the Army Corps of Engineers. The west has always taken the brunt of toxic discharge from Lake Okeechobee. This year 50% of all the lake’s polluted was discharged to the west. The main stumbling point for Cape Coral in this: The Lake Okeechobee LOSOM plan would be diverting 100% of all toxic discharges released from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee through 2032. While cleaning Lake Okeechobee is always given lip service the east and west communities have often insisted that sending the water south, as nature intended; would actually help the Everglades.

The Cape Coral City Council had sent a letter protesting the plan’s predictable destruction of Cape Coral’s canals and air quality. In the letter dated Aug. 5, Cape Coral Mayor John Gunter writes Plan CC “sends all regulatory discharges toward the Caloosahatchee River and estuary” which could lead to “blue green algae and imperil our waterways.” Congressperson Donalds, who describes President Biden as willing to help Florida with our pollution problem, has made no effort to request that the Environmental Protection Agency use any of the $225 million in the superfund clean up monies on Lake Okeechobee. When pressed he did not deny his endorsement of this plan to send all the discharges to the western estuary. Donalds described the increased pollution from Lake Okeechobee as “fair” on Tuesday.

This year there was a 50% division of toxic discharges both east and west, from Lake Okeechobee, and blooms of toxic algae were at an all-time high since 2018. Toxic algae that has plagued the city of Cape Coral can only be expected to get worse if we increase sludge from 50% to 100% of all the dumping from Lake Okeechobee. Lee Commissioner Kevin Ruane, reportedly threatened to sue the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the increased discharges. “The overall burden of flood control releases to the Caloosahatchee would increase” and so would the “total volume of water pushed into our estuary,” according to a letter sent to the Army Corps of Engineers by Ruane, who serves as chair of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. “To have a change like this for the next 10 years, there’s not a scientist around that would say this is fair and equitable,” Ruane said.

Nikki Fried, as Commissioner of Agriculture, has ordered staff into the field to urge sugar growers to monitor any pollution of the lake.

In the next 10 years many of the water storage construction projects will be completed, and a modest increase of the Army Corps sending water south to the Everglades was achieved with the removal of an unused road this year. But the LOSOM plan to send “ALL” of all the toxic waste from Lake Okeechobee to the west down the Caloosahatchee will predictably degrade the quality of life here. While this will favor the St. Lucie estuary, the environmental cost to the community of Cape Coral will predictably be devastation.

The Army Corps of Engineers is under the jurisdiction of the commander in chief. Letters of appeal can still be sent to President Biden at the White House. In 2022 there will be an election where Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressperson Byron Donalds can be held accountable. If you have an investment in this town you can consider whether you want to continue with a Congressional representative who has abandoned your interests of health and real estate equity, while doing nothing to engage the EPA in the cleaning of Lake Okeechobee.

But take a moment also to thank the City Council of Cape Coral, Nikki Fried and the Lee Commissioners for standing up for our safety.

Ellen Starbird

Cape Coral