Lake Okeechobee discharges hurting property value

MARTIN COUNTY — Are discharges from Lake Okeechobee affecting your property values?

That’s what Martin County Property Appraiser Laurel Kelly said she wants to find out.

Kelly said her office is starting to collect data on the sale prices of homes near the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon to see what, if any, impact the discharges have on property values.

“We are aware of the situation, and we are looking into it,” Kelly said.

Since June 22, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing nearly 1.2 billion gallons a day, enough to fill 1, 762 Olympic size swimming pools, from Lake Okeechobee in the St. Lucie Estuary.

The corps says the discharges are necessary to prevent a failure of the 110-mile Herbert Hoover Dike and flooding on the south side of the lake. Corps regulations call for keeping the lake between 12.5 and 15.5 feet.

As of Aug. 2, there had been 88 days of continuous Lake O discharges.

Prolonged freshwater discharges from Lake O can seriously damage marine wildlife and sea grass in the estuary, which depend on a mixture of freshwater and seawater. A lack of salinity also allows coliform bacteria, which can’t survive in salty water, to thrive.

Tests on river water by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission lab detected concentrations of microcystis aeruginosa, a type of cyanobacteria that can produce toxins in the blue-green algae blooms that began covering the estuary this week.

Because of the test results, the Florida Department of Health in Martin County is urging residents to avoid contact with algae in the entire estuary, from the St. Lucie Canal to the St. Lucie Inlet.

As a result of those tests, a triathlon scheduled for Saturday has been moved from the lagoon off the Stuart Causeway to the ocean off the southern end of Jensen Public Beach because of possible toxic algae in the lagoon.

Kelly said sale data the office collects on waterfront properties this year is too late to be used in formulas that determine taxes for 2013. Also, she said state law requires the formula to use property conditions as of Jan. 1 in the same year.

So far, the office has not receive any requests from waterfront property owners to adjust the taxes on their homes.

Kelly said she want to talk with buyers, sellers, real estate brokers or agents who had a sale under contract that was affected by the discharges.

“I’m interested in did the terms of the contract change or did negotiations take longer,” she said.

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