FORT MYERS, Fla. — More than 90 elected officials from 16 counties across the state met Wednesday in Fort Myers to discuss the controversial freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee.
The leaders discussed ways to work together toward a solution for the murky, dark brown water that stretched along parts of the Caloosahatchee River and Gulf of Mexico this past winter.
During the meeting at the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has a long-term plan to keep water out of the river.
“We do have active projects,” said Michael Collis with the Army Corps. “We have obviously the comprehensive Everglades restoration plan, once completed [it] will allow more opportunities to move the water out of the lake and south.”
The Corps emphasizes protecting people around the lake from a breach of the dike comes first, well before protecting tourism.
“The Corps places health and safety and life at the top of the list,” Collis added.
Leaders on the West Coast of Florida continue to press the option of buying farm land around the lake to send the brown water south.
“Can we do it please?” questioned Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson. “Long before 2035! That would be nice.”
Those who live around the lake say buying up all the farm land won’t solve the problems.
“The last green spaces that are left are agriculture, we need those farmlands,” said Gary Ritter, Okeechobee city council member.
Many of those who attended the meeting on Wednesday believe political pressure is the only way to get more funding to solve the issues and speed up timetables for finding a solution to the excess water.
“I think we’ve seen a major change in attitude,” said Dan Andrews, a fishing guide and member of Captains for Clean Water. “Public awareness is really increasing recently… I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”