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Lee County legislators call on federal government to honor pledge to repair dike on Lake Okeechobee.

By Staff | Feb 12, 2016

As billions of gallons of murky brackish water floods through the Caloosahatchee Estuary and scores of dead and dying sea life wash onto Southwest Florida beaches, members of the Lee County Legislative Delegation demanded the federal government take immediate action to allocate funding that will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate repair work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.

“El Nino is showing how vulnerable our precious estuary is to heavy rains. It’s time the federal government followed Florida’s leadership and did its part to finish the projects they committed to and create the storage and systems we need to stop these harmful discharges,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto in a prepared statement issued by the delegation.

“Continued heavy rains and the failure of the federal government to complete long promised work on the dike has resulted in an environmental crisis throughout our region,” said Rep. Dane Eagle in the statement. “The massive release of nutrient rich water into our estuaries is not only damaging our environment but also our economy. It is critical we take immediate action to protect our pristine beaches and coastal waters.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues, who represents the coastal region including Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva, and Bonita Beach added, “We are working on numerous projects at the state level to provide additional storage that will eventually alleviate the need for some of these releases but the ultimate solution remains with the federal Government’s long standing commitment to repair the dike.”

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, who called for a study of the ecological and fiscal impact of the releases, echoed these request.

“We are working hard in the state legislature to do our part to provide solutions, but everything hinges on the ability of Lake Okeechobee to hold more water while these other projects are completed,” Fitzenhagen said.

Currently the Florida House of Representatives is advancing two vital pieces of legislation that will mitigate future releases of water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie estuaries. HB 989, “Legacy Florida,” would direct funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to fund Everglades projects, including projects that will reduce discharges of water. And CS/HB 7005 would modernize and restructure the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Act to reflect and build on the progress of restoring Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers, and their estuaries.

“Both of these bills are essential pieces of the puzzle to provide both short term and long term solutions to this problem,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell said. “They are a clear demonstration of Florida’s continued commitment to Everglades restoration and the protection of our estuaries. Now it is time for our partners at the federal level to step up and honor their commitments to the Herbert Hoover Dike.”

Source: Florida House