Rubio visits, stumps for Lake O land purchases

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Sen. Marco Rubio appealed Monday to about a dozen county commissioners, mayors and other leaders from Southwest Florida to join him in pushing for the approval of a measure to purchase land north and south of Lake Okeechobee.

Rubio expressed his support Monday for the Central Everglades Planning Project to officials gathered at the White Orchid at Oasis event center in downtown Fort Myers. The project is a Army Corps of Engineers initiative designed to relieve the need for discharges into the Caloosahatchee River and other waterways tied to the lake.

Rubio’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour, came on the heels of a visit from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who was in Fort Myers on Friday and also called for the purchase of lands south of the lake while speaking with a gathering of mayors. Both senators arrived in the midst of a state of emergency that Gov. Rick Scott declared for Lee County over water issues last month.

The issue has grown worse since. Potentially harmful algae has shown up in Southwest Florida waterways, and concern over bacteria forced the closure of the beach at Yacht Club Community Park in Cape Coral this past weekend.

Mayor Marni Retzer told WINK News that no timetable exists for the reopening of the beach. City officials want to talk further with state agencies to learn more about tests performed on water quality.

“Our local jurisdictions usually are on the side of caution because they know that if anyone were to go into one of these waters and something bad were to happen, it would have a dramatic impact long-term for them,” Rubio said.

Discussions among city officials to close the beach didn’t happen until after the city held an event at the beach Saturday to celebrate Parks and Recreation Month, City Manager John Szerlag told WINK News.

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