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Yacht Club beach reopens

By Staff | Jul 21, 2016

The latest test results taken by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at the Cape Coral Yacht Club beach on Monday showed no presence of toxin in the water.

FDEP posted the latest test results on its website Thursday morning. Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag ordered the beach reopened immediately.

“Based on these results we are reopening the Yacht Club beach for swimming,” Szerlag said in a release through city spokesperson Connie Barron. “That said, I will continue to push for continuity between FDEP and our county health departments relative to when swimming advisories should be issued for public beaches.”

Barron said Szerlag closed the beach to swimming on Sunday “out of an abundance of caution” after a low level of microcystin, a toxin typically produced by blue-green algae, was detected by FDEP in a test taken on July 7. The result of 1 microgram per liter of toxin led Szerlag to close the beach. The World Health Organization considers a toxin level below 10 micrograms as low risk to human health.

Councilmember Richard Leon grilled Szerlag over his decision to close the city beach during Monday’s City Council meeting.

“I think we set an unprecedented policy by closing down the beach,” said Leon. “Looking at the history of the algae from the Florida Health Department, five times in the past the beach has been listed in the moderate range for concern and we did not close the beach.”

Szerlag said he closed the beach because of a report he received from the FDEP saying tests on July 7 detected 1 microgram per liter of toxin present. The report also said young children and the elderly were at risk.

The health department tests the water for bacteria while the FDEP tests for toxins.

Leon maintains reopening the beach after just four days reinforces the points he made to Szerlag and council on Monday.

“What a shocker,” Leon said upon the beach reopening. “It just shows making rash decisions based on a political atmosphere sets bad policy. (Mayor) and the city manager wanted to close the beach and it’s unfortunate they used the beach to go against the World Health Organization, DEP and others.”

He said he will have a sit down conversation with Szerlag to see how things are going and, if he feels the need, he will bring it up at council again.

“We have to rein in the city manager in issuing advisories for people at risk instead of closing it,” Leon said. “The Boat House took a big hit. It gives the area a black eye, but clean water is always a top priority.”

Defending himself to council Monday, Szerlag explained, “As manager, I’m responsible for the health, safety and welfare of all citizens. If I find out that the young and elderly are at risk I would not be doing my job if I did nothing. I acted on the side of caution. I would not allow my children or grandchildren in that water.”

Mayor Marni Retzer called Szerlag Saturday to ask if he had seen the data released by the FDEP and that started the sequence of events that led to the beach closing. Signs closing the beach were not posted until Sunday morning and the city issued no warnings or notifications to the media or general public.

Retzer said she supported Szerlag’s action while Leon respectfully disagreed with the choice.

The discussion also touched on the different criteria used to determine health risks by the State Department of Health and the FDEP, which can be confusing. Szerlag said he would work with the state to come up with one set of criteria in determining health risks associated with toxin levels.