Initiatives

Stuart boat captain Alek Loudakis grew up near the St. Lucie Lock, on water he described as “crystal clear and blue, almost like being in the Bahamas.” Today, he calls it “murky, dead, polluted.”

He is so angry that decades of efforts to stop the polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee have come to naught that he is petitioning President Barack Obama’s administration to put an end to it.

As of July 25, 883 people had joined him, signing a whitehouse.gov “We the People” online petition Loudakis posted July 19 with the help of longtime friend and Stuart resident James Hill.

Loudakis wants water to flow south to the Everglades but says Big Sugar with its big campaign contributions is standing squarely in the way.

“Death rides a pale horse and drinks from dirty water,” Loudakis said. “The fish are dying, the dolphins and manatees are dying, the pompano are gone and the fresh polluted water keeps coming out of the lake.”

He needs 100,000 signatures by Aug. 19 to get a response from the federal government. If he doesn’t reach his goal, which he said he assumed he won’t, he’ll start a new petition.

“I’ve been watching this for a long time,” he said. “So many people have tried so hard and it’s all come to nothing.”

Loudakis said he signed Steven Cottrell’s change.org online petition to Gov. Rick Scottasking for an end to the discharges as well. Cottrell’s petition had 6,116 signatures by July 25.

Cottrell said he will send his petition to the governor July 26, but keep it open and send it to Scott each time he gets 2,500 more signatures.

“I plan to be a thorn in the governor’s side,” Cottrell said. “This is something that unites Democrats and Republicans, and there’s an election coming up in a year and a half.”

Leon Abood, chairman of the Rivers Coalition, said he supports both initiatives.

“I am personally pleased and rejuvenated by the amount of community support we have, and any initiative that anyone wants to take is great,” he said.

Cottrell and Loudakis said they were outraged the governor said Treasure Coast waters are not important enough to the state’s economy to merit special treatment or funding.

“I find that Rick Scott is very ignorant of what’s going on,” Loudakis said. “He has vetoed funding for research on the problems that caused these marine life deaths and the destruction of our estuaries. He takes contributions from Big Sugar, which is a leech on taxpayers and is trashing my backyard with our own tax dollars. I’m sending my petition to Obama because we have to try to find a way to go around local government.”

PETITIONS

• Click here for the whitehouse.gov petition.

• Sign the change.org petition.

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Senate panel has until November to suggest changes to improve Indian River Lagoon

In 2003, the largest continuous discharge of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee since 1999  created a dark plume of water visible in the St. Lucie Inlet and along the Atlantic Coast. Such conditions periodically affect the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuary when too much water from Lake Okeechobee is released into the estuary.

PHOTO BY MATTHEW RATAJCZAK // BUY THIS PHOTO

By Jonathan Mattise
Posted July 10, 2013 at 1:45 p.m., updated July 10, 2013 at 6:52 p.m.
In 2003, the largest continuous discharge of freshwater from Lake Okeechobee since 1999 created a dark plume of water visible in the St. Lucie Inlet and along the Atlantic Coast. Such conditions periodically affect the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie estuary when too much water from Lake Okeechobee is released into the estuary.

Sen. Joe Negron$RETURN$$RETURN$Sen. Joe Negron

A newly-formed Florida Senate panel led by Sen. Joe Negron has until November to suggest changes to the Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases into the St. Lucie Estuary, and other water policies maiming local waterways.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, announced the new oversight committee dedicated to the Indian River Lagoon Wednesday. The Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, which has five Republican and three Democratic members appointed by Gaetz, will hold multiple hearings with stakeholders.

The Senate is looking at early- to mid-August to schedule the hearings, Gaetz spokeswoman Katie Betta said. Negron said the first hearing will take place in Stuart and the meetings will be open to the public.

“I’m determined to get to the bottom of this issue and how we can prevent environmental devastation to the Indian River, the St. Lucie River and the lagoon,” Negron said.

In addition to state lawmakers, Negron said he will invite the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, South Florida Water Management District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, environmental interests and sugar and agricultural representatives.

Negron said he also plans to speak with Murphy about water issues before the meeting.

“I’m fully expecting all of the important decision-makers to be at the Senate committee hearing,” Negron said.

Negron has credited Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers for bringing the lagoon issue to the forefront. Scripps held two forums on the lagoon’s health with state lawmakers in June.

 

WHAT IT WILL DO

The committee is tasked with studying the policies, spending and other governmental activities affecting the lagoon and lake basin. Then the group will compile a report by Nov. 4 that includes:

Historic and current state and federal water policies;

Impact of water releases and environmental priorities;

State and federal options for improvement; and

Water policy recommendations.

The report will be submitted to the Senate Committee on Appropriations chaired by Negron, and committees on Environmental Preservation and Agriculture.

“The federal government and the state of Florida have invested vast sums and spent a number of years developing water policies for the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee basin,” Gaetz said in a news release. “The purpose of this Select Committee is to determine what progress has been made and what changes in policy, if any, should be recommended to the Legislature and the Congress.”

 

POSSIBLE OUTCOME

The recommendations could result in new water management proposals for the 2014 legislative session, which starts in March, Negron said in the news release.

“Local residents can see the impact of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon firsthand and have asked members of our local legislative delegation to play a role in assessing the impact of current water release activities,” Negron said in the release.

Environmental advocates contend Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar farmlands. Instead, the water is released via canals east into the St. Lucie and west to the Caloosahatchee. The freshwater dumps can cause algae blooms and fish kills in the river and lagoon.