Reader Comment: Committee Meeting

Another concerned citizen, Pam, sent in this info about a committee meeting on August 22.  The committee members will be discussing how to address the Okeechobee dumping and we can send in our comments.  See Pam’s note below on how to do so.  Thanks so much, Pam!! #savethelagoon !

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In case you do not yet have this info: go to http://www.flsenate.gov and click on “Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin” for info on the August 22 workshop being held 1pm – 9pm at the Charles & Rae Kane Center, 900 SE Salerno Rd, Stuart.

The public may attend, and there will be time at the end of the meeting for “Public Testimony”. Sen. Joe Negron is the Chair of this Select Committee, along with 7 other FL Senators. When you go to the webpage, you can also click on the link “Workshop List of Participants” to see the names of those on each Panel, the agenda, invited officials and speakers. Their outline states “Specifically, participants will be asked to discuss the short term options or alternatives to reduce or eliminate the current releases from Lake Okeechobee”. On this site, there is a form to submit your comments to the Select Committee.

Another website for info on members of the Select Committee: http://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/SIRO

Thanks for the great work you are doing to help save our Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River, marine life and wildlife. I read that Sanibel Island beaches are also being dumped on from Lake Okeechobee, via the Caloosahatchee River. The Mayor & City Coucil of Sanibel have written a letter to the Senate Select Committee, urging them to include the Caloosahatchee River with the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee issue.

I hope this info helps. It would be great if you could pass on this info, so people can make their voices heard to the committee before the hearing on Aug. 22.

Keep up the good work and keep the faith! Together, we can make a difference!

Pam Muse, Casselberry, FL

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A letter, a call to action

Rich Dickerson, Stuart

Letter: Mass protests, civil disobedience needed to save the lagoon

A pretty picture it ain’t. A phosphorus bomb at the crossroads recently. Now releases nearing 5 billion gallons a day. St. Lucie north and south, the middle river down to the crossroads, a freshwater polluted lake. Unimaginable. Unthinkable that this is allowed to happen and that no one is held accountable for destroying hundreds of square miles of the public commons.

It’s time.

To make a change to this horrific crime against the environment you have to force the government to act. The only way the civil rights act was passed in this country is because the people got into the streets to protest in civil disobedience. It got done. The masses protested in force to stop the Vietnam War with a march on Washington. It got done. The people forced the government to act. I feel that’s the only way to stop the discharges.

Decades of conversation now has to lead to action.

Advocates for the river are out there. Rivers Coalition, Audubon, Everglades Foundation. They all have one thing in common, a flow way south. Another thing they have in common is membership. Lots of people. Rivers Coalition alone has 60-plus organizations representing 300,000 people. Imagine 10 percent of them showing up at the St. Lucie locks.

It’s time.

I call on the Rivers Coalition and the many advocates for the river to take action. Rally together and organize a call to action. Plan days of mass protests and civil disobedience. This is our backyard, not a dumping ground for the byproduct of Big Sugar’s greed and profit. Occupy the water district’s offices and big sugar lobby PACs. Demonstrate loud and far. Be willing to be arrested for this dire cause. I am ready.

I hope it’s not too late for the lagoon.

Rich_Dickerson
Posted August 4, 2013 at 4 a.m.

Sugar Ads

Sugar ad

Sugar ad

SUGAR ADS

The local-market sugar industry ads, running from early June to mid-July, also are airing on cable networks, including CNN, but those costs are harder to track.

West Palm market

Covers: Palm Beach County to north Indian River County; includes Okeechobee

Ad cost: $115,150

Affected waterways: St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Fort Myers market

Covers: Lee, Collier, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry counties

Ad cost: At least $64,795

Affected waterway: Caloosahatchee River

The ads touting Florida sugar farmers as environmentally friendly are only running in the two TV markets battered by Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases.

While Lake O water pours into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, TV viewers in the West Palm Beach and Fort Myers markets are listening to the sugar industry’s positive take on its Everglades cleanup efforts. Those are the only two regions where the ads are playing, according to the media-buying agency in charge, VancoreJones Communications Inc.

One ad sponsored by the sugar industry, often criticized as a major water polluter, paints a picture of positive Everglades partnerships and cleanup progress. Among the alligators, birds, tractors and scientists pictured, a narrator echoes Gov. Rick Scott’s catch phrase, “It’s working,” before showing the governor at a bill signing.

“We thought it was important that people everywhere in Florida understand that the restoration process to this date has been very successful,” Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar, has said about the ads.

Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, said it’s no coincidence which audience the sugar industry is targeting.

“That’s where they are causing the most damage that is visible to the public,” Wickstrom said.

RELEASES START, ADS FOLLOW

The ads started about a month after the Army Corps of Engineers began dumping Lake O water east and west, via canals. The corps says discharges are necessary to keep a rising lake from threatening the surrounding Herbert Hoover Dike and from flooding communities to the south.

Environmental advocates contend Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. The lake water puts the lagoon and estuary at dangerously low salinity levels, and it carries phosphorous and nitrogen. The combination of factors can prove deadly for marine wildlife.

Environmentalists also contend taxpayers are footing too much of the Everglades cleanup bill, and sugar isn’t paying its fair share.

PR CAMPAIGN

The TV ad is one prong of a public relations push from sugar. Florida Sugar Farmers has mailed fliers that tout the same positive spin on the industry’s Everglades work. It’s unclear how much the group spent, or where exactly the mailers went, but they hit both the Fort Myers and Treasure Coast region.

The group also created a website, www.sugarfarmers.com, that repeats the same message.

Despite using the name Florida Sugar Farmers in the ads, the nonprofit behind the campaign is Everglades Forever Partnership Inc. The 501(c)(4) group’s official purpose, according to IRS tax forms, is to “promote welfare and common good and restoration of the Florida Everglades.”

501(c)(4)s have become the most prominent political-spending group. They don’t need to disclose their donors, and can spend unlimited money on political communications.

Everglades Forever Partnership formed in 2003 amid a political tussle over a controversial state Everglades bill. Environmentalists fought a proposal they said would have delayed stricter pollution standards in the Everglades for at least a decade.

After the bill passed, Everglades Forever Partnership mailed a flier saying, “Who can we thank for protecting our Everglades?” On the other side was a photo of the local lawmaker who supported the bill.

The group’s directors, Richard Johnston and Randy Nielsen, run Public Concepts LLC in West Palm Beach. That company has been a lucrative de facto arm of state Republican campaigns. Public Concepts raked in about $1.8 million through their work on mailers, ads, polls, consulting and more for state candidates and committees in the 2012 cycle.

1996 SUGAR AD FIGHT

In 1996, the sugar industry prominently dove into political advertising. The group Save Our Everglades managed to get three constitutional amendments aimed at the sugar industry on the ballot by petition. The most controversial would have imposed a penny-a-pound tax on sugar growers.

A week before the election, a sugar-fueled political committee peppered voters with a mailer. It said: “Can you afford a property tax increase? Amendment 4 gives politicians and bureaucrats the power to raise property taxes hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The sugar industry put about $18.9 million into the committee in 1996.

In a subsequent letter, Orlando State Attorney Lawson Lamar said: “It is my strong recommendation that no further misleading materials be distributed to the public and that a statement correcting the misinformation in this document be included in your upcoming campaign mailings or other communications with the public.”

Save Our Everglades said that recommendation was ignored. The amendment failed by an 8 percent margin on the November 1996 ballot. U.S. Sugar and Save our Everglades then traded lawsuits, which the two parties eventually dropped.

SUGAR ADS

The local-market sugar industry ads, running from early June to mid-July, also are airing on cable networks, including CNN, but those costs are harder to track.

West Palm market

Covers: Palm Beach County to north Indian River County; includes Okeechobee

Ad cost: $115,150

Affected waterways: St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon

Fort Myers market

Covers: Lee, Collier, DeSoto, Charlotte, Glades, Hendry counties

Ad cost: At least $64,795

Affected waterway: Caloosahatchee River

 

Manatee, pelican deaths suggest serious problems for Indian River Lagoon

Manatee, pelican deaths suggest serious problems for Indian River Lagoon

March 21, 2013|By Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel

The mysterious deaths of dozens of manatees and hundreds of pelicans may be an indication that the ailing Indian River Lagoon, among the state’s most magnificent waterways, is headed for one of the more epic collapses of a Florida ecosystem in years.

The 156-mile-long lagoon, one of the richest marine environments in North America, has suffered extensive blooms of microscopic algae in recent years that have in turn triggered mass die-offs of seagrass, the submerged plants that shelter many aquatic species and are a primary source of food for manatees

Scientists feared something bad would happen as a result, and beginning last summer manatees began perishing in areas with the worst seagrass losses, mainly in Brevard County, though no cause of death has been determined.

“The loss of manatees has been less than we’ve seen with red tide and from cold stress in recent years. But to me, this is scarier,” said Katie Tripp, science director of the Save the Manatee Club.

“With cold stress, we know it’s going to warm up, and with red tide we know pretty much what to expect. But it’s been a long time since we’ve had manatees dying off in large numbers for reasons that aren’t known,” Tripp said.

Coinciding with the unexplained deaths of 80 manatees as of Thursday is the rising toll of brown pelicans, whose deaths also have no explanation. State officials said that, as of Thursday, nearly 230 pelican carcasses have been recovered or reported this year.

Dan Wolf, a state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, said he and other investigators think the pelican and manatee deaths are related, even though there are perplexing differences.

“Manatees eat plants, and pelicans eat fish. The only thing they share is water,” Wolf said.

Wolf said that whatever is afflicting the pelicans kills a bird during a span of weeks and leaves its victims emaciated and plagued with parasites. By contrast, the manatees appear to sicken and die quickly — and, as far as investigators know, display no warning symptoms.

“We’ve seen signs of acute shock and drowning,” said Martine deWit, an FWC veterinarian.

State investigators think that the loss of seagrass has forced manatees to forage on a type of red-colored algae in the Indian River known as gracilaria. Necropsies of manatees have found their stomachs filled with it.

“It looks like they ingest this stuff, and once it gets into their system, it causes an issue with their intestines, and there actually seems to be a reaction in the small intestine,” said Andy Garrett, an FWC marine-mammal biologist.

Gracilaria isn’t thought to be toxic. So the challenge for investigators is to determine whether there is an unknown toxin at work. But even if investigators determine what is killing the manatees and pelicans, there may not be much that can be done to prevent further deaths, deWit said.

The same holds for the health of the Indian River overall. State water managers now fear that “nutrient” pollution tied to street runoff, lawn fertilizers and sewage is driving the lagoon’s ecosystem. That pollution, which is essentially plant food, has been absorbed through the years by seagrasses or by gracilaria and other large species of algae.

 

But cold snaps in 2010 and 2011 killed much of that large algae, which decomposed and released the nutrient pollution back into the water, where it triggered an explosive growth of single-cell, microscopic algae in three sections of the lagoon. Those blooms of microscopic algae then blocked sunlight from reaching the surviving seagrass, killing off more than 30,000 acres of the plants.

“We are in a crisis mode,” said Troy Rice, director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program.

The question now is whether the lagoon is transforming from a system where seagrasses and large algae absorb nutrient pollution to a system in which microscopic algae are in control. Charles Jacoby, a St. Johns River Water Management District scientist, said there are many examples of ecosystems making that “flip.”

“When they flip, they flip pretty radically,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to flip them back.”

What’s happening to the coastal waterway, which extends from New Smyrna Beach south to Jupiter and is a major manatee habitat, has been drawing much attention, including from dolphin biologists.

“Because of what’s going on with manatees, we’re on alert,” said Megan Stolen, a scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, which documented a mini-spike of five dolphin deaths in February, up from the month’s average of 2.3 deaths.

Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council, which advocates lagoon restoration, hopes recent events finally trigger a critical mass of public and government concern.

“Maybe now that there are pelicans falling out of the sky, then maybe the public will start rallying on behalf of the system,” Souto said. “I’m hearing from people here in Melbourne that, ‘Oh, we saw another dead manatee.’ And these are children.”

Tripp, the Save the Manatee Club scientist, said the lagoon’s plight underscores the vulnerability of manatees, which have been under consideration for reclassification from “endangered” to the less-dire category of “threatened.”

Chuck Underwood, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, said agency biologists are asking questions about the lagoon’s deterioration, including what it may mean for manatee conservation.

“The answer is, we are not sure,” Underwood said.

kspear@tribune.com or 407-420-5062