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Candidate seeks to have Lake O designated as a National Monument

By Staff | Apr 13, 2016

Democratic Congressional hopeful April Freeman says she has a solution to the water quality problems in Lake Okeechobee, one she says will take the politics out of the issue.

Freeman, who is running for the U.S. House District 17 held by four-term Republican incumbent Tom Rooney, has started a petition to have President Barack Obama execute an executive order to have Lake Okeechobee declared a National Monument, which would work in conjunction with a bill Congressman Curt Clawson, has proposed.

The declaration would expedite cleanup efforts, funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, and work with HB 4793, Clawson’s bill called the Everglades Land Acquisition Act, which would authorize the federal government to buy land in the Everglades that can be added to the monument to provide a single, protected area, the Freeman team said.

Through the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President may designate any federal owned or controlled land as a National Monument.

Freeman has already started the process by posting the petition at whitehouse.gov, which requires 100,000 signatures within 30 days from the date of posting for the president to review it.

Freeman said she has received a release from the White House saying there was precedent for such an idea.

“The president had declared three national monuments in the California desert. I was watching Bill Maher one day and he had asked everyone to go to wethepeople.com and request the president appear on his show,” Freeman said. “He gathered the petitions quickly and I thought, ‘We can do this.'”

Freeman said everyone she has spoken with has been positive about her plan. The plan has been praised by the Democratic Environmental Caucus, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, and former county commissioner and environmental advocate Ray Judah, she added.

Currently, excess water releases go east and west through the Caloosahatchee and the St. Lucie rivers, which saw their coastal estuaries and beaches suffer with the amount of rain that came in January.

The problem is, in the meantime, if there’s another significant rain event and the water gets too high, the Plan B is to punch a hole in the dike and let the water flow in the least populated area, Freeman’s campaign manager Sam Fisher said.

The proposal would also force the government to clean up the bottom of the lake to remove the toxins and pollutants from the last century.

“The dike is in disrepair. We can only get enough money to fix that a little at a time. If we keep going like this it will take 25 years and it will be too late,” Freeman said. “We’re going to restore the flow back to the south so we can restore the grass in the Everglades.”

The natural flow would create a filtering system, Freeman said. Shrimp used to breed in the seagrass. However, most of that grass is gone, since the Everglades relies now on rain water. This could bring back the sea grass and restore the shrimping industry.

Clawson’s bill, if passed, would spend $500 million to buy land in the Everglades Agricultural Area in Palm Beach County. The government would buy the land and hand it over to the Department of the Interior and it would either be transferred to the state or a non-profit.

With the executive order, the land from Clawson’s bill could be transferred permanently, since as a monument it could also transferred to the Department of the Interior.

“We aren’t taking anything away from Curt because he’s come a long way on this issue. We’re asking the president to incorporate what he is trying to do and roll that into the national monument,” Freeman said.

Clawson’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.