Business owners worried, but Lee County tourism leaders confident amid water crisis

Published: Updated:
File Photo: WINK News

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Murky water in Lee County has prompted a state of emergency, but local tourism industry leaders aren’t panicking.

No Lee County beaches are closed and no significant outbreaks of the blue-green algae that’s plaguing the east coast had been reported as the Fourth of July weekend began Friday. The next three days are key for many businesses counting on an influx of people on a long holiday weekend.

“We are getting some calls from some visitors that are asking about the water quality, and what we have to tell them right now is the information we are receiving is that the water’s OK,” said Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce president Bud Nocera. “It’s not pretty, but it’s OK.”

Some who have businesses, like John Paeno, co-owner of CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards in Bonita Springs, are much less optimistic.

“I see this as the biggest natural disaster, or, I should say, unnatural disaster that we’ve ever had,” Paeno said.

The brown-tinted water washing ashore has worried some whose livelihoods are based on a steady stream of tourists.

“It’s the only way I feed my family,” said Lindsay Carpenter, who works at Beacon Bed and Breakfast in Fort Myers Beach. “It’s awful. I hate it because it’s killing our marine life out there, not to mention us that live here. If we don’t have tourists, what are we going to have?”

Nocera believes business will withstand the latest water crisis, pointing to the market’s resiliency. Lee County doesn’t have any immediate plans to launch an ad campaign similar to one last spring that cost $250,000.

“I think that people understand that this is an issue that comes and goes,” Nocera said.

Some nonetheless worry that months of brown water are damaging the area’s reputation.

“Why would you want to come back?” said Jane Ribbink, who operates Janie’s Sweet Delights bakery in Fort Myers Beach. “And if no one’s coming down, you can’t stay open on nothing.”

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