Fort Myers declares local state of emergency over algae; State offers loan program

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The City of Fort Myers unanimously approve a local state of emergency to address the toxic blue-green algae that continues to plague Southwest Florida waterways.

The City will discussed the proposal in a meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday. City leaders hope the funds would help pay for contractors and cleanup equipment.

City hall acknowledges algae isn’t clogging their canals like in North Fort Myers, and you can see the Caloosahatchee appears clear, but this state of emergency is to support and acknowledge all impacted.

The decision comes in anticipation of the Army Corps’ announcement that they will likely increase daily water releases from Lake Okeechobee.

In the City’s proposal, they blame the Army Corps water releases for the toxic blue-green algae and red tide blooms.

Patricia Sharp of North Port says its too little too late, “It does not solve anything it’s just clean up that’s it.”

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency six weeks ago for several counties including Lee County.

MORE: Lee County leaders vote to expand local state of emergency

Emergency Bridge Loan Program

After months of dead fish and no customers, Captain John Black is ready for some relief, “Business is really bad right now for most people and it’s going to continue to get worse.”

Last week, Governor Rick Scott announced an emergency bridge loan program, giving up to $50,000 dollars to small businesses affected by red tide or blue-green algae. But the interest rate that goes along with it is huge.

“The interest rate on these things is 18 percent which is the highest rate you can charge in the state of Florida by law. Anything higher would be illegal in the state of Florida,” Black said.

Captain black says he’ll pass on this deal, “It just doesn’t make sense to get into a situation like that because we don’t know how long this is going to last.”

Michael Westra, owner of Lehr’s Bait Shop says he’s not cashing in on the program either.
You have six months to pay off the loan, “To get a $50,000 loan or $30,000 loan and have 180 days to pay and get nailed with 18 percent .. It doesn’t seem like that’s help.”

Experts say government funding for natural disasters like the small business administration offers up to $2 million at three-percent interest for up to 30 years.

“Government trying to help me out in this case,” but Westra says he’s not taking the bait “I’m not going to say seems predatory, but it seems right on the edge of that.”

WINK News got the Department of Economic Opportunity on the phone who tells these businesses, don’t worry. The Small Business Development Center will work with you to pay off the loan, even after the deadline.

Tiffany Vause, spokeswoman for Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said, “We’re going to help them pay that loan back. We’re gonna work with them if we have to do installments or however we need to work with them to get that loan back, nobody’s going to be left out to dry.

The high interest rate is meant to deter businesses from taking advantage of public funds.

“We want to make sure we’re spending these dollars in the best interest of the taxpayer dollars while helping businesses get back on their feet,” Vause added.

Governor Scott is also asking the SBA to help with lower-interest rates.

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