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Water quality issues cause calamitous fiscal impact

By Staff | Oct 16, 2018

Hundreds of residents from across the region packed into the Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers on Oct. 15 for the inaugural Florida Economic Water Summit.

They listened to a panel of experts in various fields give their take on the economic impact of the red tide and blue-green algae on cities and towns in Southwest Florida.

“This past year has been one for the record books,” said John Cassani, biologist with the Calusa Waterkeeper, a local non-profit that put on the event. “We will not know the extent (of damage) of the algal bloom for some time; it could be devastating.”

The speakers included: Cassani; Wayne Daltry, former director of the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council; Dave Jensen, owner of Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages and Marina Resort on Captiva; John Lai, president of the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce; Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce; Corey McCloskey, director of career development for John R. Wood Properties; Adam Vellano, West Coast sales manager for BEX Realty; Dr. H. Shelton Weeks, department chair of economics and finance at Florida Gulf Coast University; and Capt. Daniel Andrews, executive director for Captains for Clean Water.

Each took the time to elaborate on how the toxic water events have hurt the economy, water quality, ecosystem and tourism industry.

“We’re not learning from previous blooms, we need to do better,” Cassani said.

He noted the hundreds of miles of Florida coastline shrouded in Karenia brevis, the red tide toxin, and that a state of emergency had been declared in seven counties in Florida due to harmful water.

The newest research is being done on air quality, and how being near a contaminated body of water may lead to negative health impacts. A recent study showed 70 out of 77 people tested positive for a microsystem stemming from toxic water, Cassani said.

Andrews warned the crowd that there is no “silver bullet” solution to the issue, despite what people have said pertaining to deep injection wells.

“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “I see it as a big threat that people are going to believe this will work, you shouldn’t buy into the idea.”

Jensen encouraged the crowd to vote, and not necessarily along party lines, but for who will fight for water quality in Florida.

“Cast your vote for water, political affiliation doesn’t matter,” he said.

Jensen himself has gone fertilizer-free at his two resorts.

“We’re all part of the problem, we need to help each other and all be part of the solution,” he said.

Liszak and Lai broke down the losses businesses in their respective areas have estimated that they have lost since late July, when the red tide really started spreading – the numbers in the millions.

“It’s difficult to see people you know and love go through the line,” Liszak said of the Harry Chapin Food Bank on Fort Myers Beach that for the last month has been helping those who have lost jobs, wages, hours, income and tips to get a bite to eat.

Lai said tourism is Florida’s “golden goose” and the state cannot forget the size of the hole it is in.

“We’ve found what has the ability to kill our golden goose,” he said of the environmental catastrophes.

One-in-five employees in Lee County have a job that is based off of the tourism industry, Lai said.

McCloskey and Vellano gave the real-estate perspective, as they said they have fielded calls from all over the world with people asking, “What’s going on down there?”

Both are doing their part to educate themselves and other Realtors on the issues, along with gathering information they can pass along to buyers, who may have the power in this market the way things are shaping up, they said.

Cape Coral waterfront property was specifically mentioned, as McCloskey said the area is moving into a buyer’s market if trends continue as they are presently.

Weeks has also heard the concerns from out-of-state residents, and cited a family that had planned to celebrate some time on the west coast but went to the east coast instead due to the blooms, taking their dollars with them.

“We don’t have the data we need to compile the economic costs at the moment, but listening to the panel, I’d say it’s huge,” he said. “Costs go beyond this event. It can take years to recover.”

The costs he mentioned can involve health care, working – or not working, mitigation efforts, business and opportunity – as in the toxic water is costing people the chance to come to the area and businesses their revenue.

“I think our region can deal with the issue, but what concerns me is the long-term view,” he said. “Buyers of homes and business owners are asking themselves, ‘Is this a one-off event?’ ‘Is this a risk I think I can bear?’ Maybe the risk is not worth taking.”

For Sanibel business owner and water-quality advocate Richard Johnson, the meeting was encouraging, though he is weary of how the economic impacts will continue.

“I started seeing impact in late-July,” Johnson said of Bailey’s General Store. “August and September were absolutely horrendous for me. I was looking at our family business being down around 35-36 percent.”

Those losses, he said, are unsustainable.

“I can’t keep doing that. Thank goodness I had the support of the local community, but I was missing my friends from up north, or as I call it, the guest trade,” Johnson said.

The store supports 121 families via employees. Surprisingly, it has not had to lay anyone off, but it has been forced to really tighten the belt.

“We’re a 119-year-old family business, and we prepare for this kind of thing, but I can’t keep doing this year after year,” he said. “We’ve got to make different decisions and stop what we’ve all been talking about tonight. I’m very encouraged to hear people speaking up. Let’s get motivated. Let’s get motivated to hold people accountable that we’ve elected. Let’s make sure we step up and do the right thing at election time and make sure that we elect representatives that have the political will to change what we’ve been doing. What we’ve been doing is not working. We all moved here because it’s a beautiful place to live. If we don’t take care of it, it’s not going to be here for anybody.”

Daltry was the last to speak and brought the crowd some laughter, but at the same time gave the most passionate speech of the evening.

He told a story, with its meaning rooted in greed, how people had this beautiful piece of land and gorgeous water that everyone wanted to see, and how people took that for granted, wanting to get the most bang for their buck, in turn, ruining the beauty that once was.

A question-and-answer opportunity for attendees to voice their concerns followed the summit, with many asking about global warming, politics and what the public can do to get involved.

“I’m pretty encouraged (with the turnout),” Cassani said. “What I would suggest is the community stay engaged on these issues. Learn as much as you can. It’s a little bit of a blur because there are various interest groups trying to control the message to meet a certain agenda, so people get confused when you get conflicting messages. But please, stay engaged and vote your instincts, follow your instincts.

“The other big thing is to vote. You’ve got to vote. There’s no excuse for not voting on Nov. 6, that is absolutely crucial. I don’t think we can go another couple of election cycles and dig out of this hole. The stakes have never been higher,” he said.

Liszak was encouraged with the turnout and is happy to see people becoming informed and staying driven.

“We covered a range of topics tonight, you can tell people are very concerned. I love that a whole neighborhood from Cape Coral came out. I thought that was so powerful,” she said. “We’ve just got to have people keep reaching out to their Rolodexes. Keep reaching out to your friends and family, ask the people up north to contact their D.C. representatives, to help save the Everglades and to vote for Everglades restoration. We need to reach beyond the state of Florida as far as the federal level is concerned. And then for the state level, they are, in fact, as you heard tonight, responsible for water quality. So research what the folks who are running for office (believe in), research their votes, research really what they stand for, not just what they’re saying right now,” she said.

“If you’re interested in going on a trip to Tallahassee when sessions start, please contact the chamber, we’re taking names and numbers, and we would love to get a big bus to go up and spend a couple of days and visit all of our representatives,” she added.

While the water and conditions may be looking a bit better on the islands and Fort Myers Beach and in the Cape, the region is not out of the woods and residents cannot take their foot off of the gas and get complacent, the panelists emphasized.

“There’s never been this many stresses on this many fronts, that have impacted these ecosystems,” Cassani said. “It’s a sobering concept, it really is.”

Water quality issues cause calamitous fiscal impact

By Staff | Oct 16, 2018

Hundreds of residents from across the region packed into Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers Monday night for the inaugural Florida Economic Water Summit.

They listened to a panel of experts in various fields give their take on the economic impact of the red tide and blue-green algae on cities and towns in Southwest Florida.

“This past year has been one for the record books,” said John Cassani, biologist and Calusa Waterkeeper, a local non-profit that put on the event. “We will not know the extent (of damage) of the algal bloom for some time; it could be devastating.”

Speakers included: Cassani, Wayne Daltry, former director of SWFL Regional Planning Council; Dave Jensen, owner, Jensen’s Twin Palm Resort and Marina on Captiva; John Lai, president of the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce; Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce; Corey McCloskey, John R. Wood Properties, director of Career Development; Adam Vellano, BEX Realty, West Coast sales manager; Dr. H. Shelton Weeks, department chair of Economics & Finance and Captain Daniel Andrews, executive director, Captains for Clean Water.

Each took the time to elaborate on how these toxic water events have hurt the economy, water quality, ecosystem and tourism industry.

“We’re not learning from previous blooms, we need to do better,” Cassani said.

He noted the hundreds of miles of Florida coastline shrouded in Karenia brevis, the red tide toxin, and that a State of Emergency had been declared in seven counties in Florida due to harmful water.

The newest research is being done on air quality, and how being near a contaminated body of water may lead to negative health impacts.

A recent study showed 70/77 people had tested positive for a microsystem stemming from toxic water, said Cassani.

Andrews warned the crowd that there is no “silver bullet” solution to this issue, despite what people have said pertaining to deep injection wells.

“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “I see it as a big threat that people are going to believe this will work, you shouldn’t buy into the idea.”

Jensen encouraged the crowd to vote, and not necessarily along party lines, but for who will fight for water quality in Florida.

“Cast your vote for water, political affiliation doesn’t matter,” he said.

He himself has gone fertilizer-free at his two resorts, “We’re all part of the problem, we need to help each other and all be part of the solution.”

Liszak and Lai, both Chamber of Commerce presidents respectively, broke down the losses their businesses have estimated they have lost since late July, when the red tide really started spreading, seeing red numbers in the millions.

“It’s difficult to see people you know and love go through the line,” Liszak said of the Harry Chapin Food Bank that has been on Fort Myers Beach this past month, helping those who have either lost jobs, wages, hours, income or tips, get a bite to eat.

Lai said that tourism is Florida’s “golden goose” and that we cannot forget the size of the hole we are in.

“We’ve found what has the ability to kill our golden goose,” he said of these environmental catastrophes.

One-in-five employees in Lee County have a job that is based off of the tourism industry, Lai said.

McCloskey and Vellano gave the real-estate perspective, as they said they have fielded calls from all over the world with people asking, “What’s going on down there?”

Both are doing their part to educate themselves, and other Realtors on these issues, along with information they can pass along to buyers, who may have the power in this market the way things are shaping up, they said.

Cape Coral waterfront property was specifically mentioned, as McCloskey said that the area is moving into a buyer’s market if trends continue as they are presently.

Dr. Weeks has also heard the concerns from out-of-state residents, and even knew of a family that was planning to celebrate some time on the west coast, but due to these blooms, went to the east coast instead, taking their dollars with them.

“We don’t have the data we need to compile the economic costs at the moment, but, listening to the panel, I’d say it’s huge,” said Weeks. “Costs go beyond this event. It can take years to recover.”

Those costs he mentioned can involve health care costs, working (or not working) costs, mitigation effort costs, business costs and opportunity costs-as in the toxic water is costing people the chance to come here, and businesses their revenue.

“I think our region can deal with the issue, but what concerns me is the long- term view,” he said. “Buyers of homes and business owners are asking themselves, ‘Is this a one-off event?’ ‘Is this a risk I think I can bear?’ Maybe the risk is not worth taking.”

For Sanibel business owner and water-quality advocate Richard Johnson, the meeting was encouraging, though he is weary of how these economic impacts will continue.

“I started seeing impact in late-July,” Johnson said of his grocery store, Bailey’s. “August and September were absolutely horrendous for me. I was looking at our family business being down around 35-36 percent.”

Those losses, he said, are unsustainable.

“I can’t keep doing that. Thank goodness I had the support of the local community, but I was missing my friends from up north, or as I call it, the guest trade.”

The store supports 121 families via employees. Surprisingly, they have not had to lay anyone off, but have, instead, been forced to really tighten the belt.

“We’re a 119-year-old family business, and we prepare for this kind of thing, but I can’t keep doing this year after year,” he said. “We’ve got to make different decisions and stop what we’ve all been talking about tonight. I’m very encouraged to hear people speaking up. Let’s get motivated. Let’s get motivated to hold people accountable that we’ve elected. Let’s make sure we step up and do the right thing at election time and make sure that we elect representatives that have the political will to change what we’ve been doing. What we’ve been doing is not working. We all moved here because it’s a beautiful place to live. If we don’t take care of it, it’s not going to be here for anybody.”

Daltry was the last to speak, and brought the crowd some laughter, but at the same time, gave the most passionate speech of the evening.

He told a story, with its meaning rooted in greed, how we had this beautiful piece of land and gorgeous water that everyone wanted to see, and how people took that for granted, wanting to get the most bang for their buck, in turn, ruining the beauty that once was.

A question-and-answer opportunity for attendees to voice their concerns followed, with many people asking informed, educated questions-questions about global warming, politics and what the public can do to get involved.

“I’m pretty encouraged (with the turnout),” said Cassani. “What I would suggest is the community stay engaged on these issues. Learn as much as you can. It’s a little bit of a blur because there are various interest groups trying to control the message to meet a certain agenda, so people get confused when you get conflicting messages. But please, stay engaged and vote your instincts, follow your instincts.

“The other big thing is to vote. You’ve got to vote. There’s no excuse for not voting on Nov. 6, that is absolutely crucial. I don’t think we can go another couple of election cycles and dig out of this hole. The stakes have never been higher.”

Liszak, who is staged at ground zero for red tide on Fort Myers Beach (along with Sanibel/Captiva) was encouraged with the turnout and is happy to see people becoming more informed and continuing to stay driven.

“We covered a range of topics tonight, you can tell people are very concerned. I love that a whole neighborhood from Cape Coral came out. I thought that was so powerful,” she said. “We’ve just got to have people keep reaching out to their Rolodex’s. Keep reaching out to your friends and family, ask the people up north to contact their D.C. representatives, to help save the Everglades and to vote for Everglades restoration. We need to reach beyond the state of Florida as far as the federal level is concerned. And then for the state level, they are, in fact, as you heard tonight, responsible for water quality. So research what the folks who are running for office (believe in), research their votes, research really what they stand for, not just what they’re saying right now.

“If you’re interested in going on a trip to Tallahassee when sessions start, please contact the chamber, we’re taking names and numbers, and we would love to get a big bus to go up and spend a couple of days and visit all of our representatives.”

Liszak touted current Fort Myers Beach conditions as well, glowing over the gorgeous sunset and people out and about-marine life as well.

Though in places like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel/Captiva and Cape Coral-the water may be looking a bit better, the region is not out of the woods and residents cannot take their foot off of the gas and get complacent, panelists emphasized.

“There’s never been this many stresses on this many fronts, that have impacted these ecosystems,” said Cassani. “It’s a sobering concept, it really is.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj