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Water issues topic of town hall meeting

By Staff | Aug 29, 2013

There is a special town hall meeting hosted by Sanibel and Lee County officials that is free and open to the public scheduled for 6:30-10 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5, at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center, 2675 Ortiz Ave., in Fort Myers.

The meeting is a byproduct of a meeting on Aug. 2 Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and others arranged with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Lee County Commissioners and area natural resources department representatives.

Ruane and Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall will serve as facilitators for the town hall discussion. Col. Alan M. Dodd, district commander for the COE, and Ernie Barnett, interim executive director of the SFWMD, will discuss the ongoing freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee basin into the Caloosahatchee River.

“Senator Joe Negron already has four recommendations coming out of last week’s Senate Select Committee hearing in Stuart,” said Ruane, who testified at the hearing. “It’s everything we’ve been asking for – more water in the lake, move water to private lands and make sure the canals around the lake are at maximum capacity.”

Following informational presentations from both the COE and SFWMD regarding the freshwater releases and management of Lake O, members of the public will be allowed to ask questions or provide comments.

“We have made more progress, in my opinion, in the hours since the Senate hearing and I am very pleased with what has transpired so far,” said Ruane.

Ruane credits a letter-writing campaign by individual citizens and local government officials for getting the ball rolling, bringing our economic and environmental plight to the attention of legislators and probably prompting the Senate Select Committee being formed.

“We’ve got to keep the pressure on the Corps of Engineers and the water district about the public safety issues and balancing the economy,” added Ruane.

The Senate Select Committee will hold at least one more hearing on the freshwater releases in September, but their final recommendations are not due until November. Negron, who chairs the Florida appropriations committee, is the perfect person and the perfect link to funding to get recommendations carried out.

“Senator (Lizbeth) Benacquisto is representing us on the Senate committee, and she has represented us proudly,” said Ruane. “It comes down to how quick can we move on the recommendations. There are two solutions, one temporary and one long term.”

For more information, contact Lee County Natural Resources at 239-533-8109 or the City of Sanibel at 239-472-3700.