SWFL demands transparency after Rooney’s closed door algae meeting

Published: Updated:

A demand for transparency.

Southwest Floridians that spent months living next to and breathing in blue-green algae want to know what’s being done to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Congressman Francis Rooney hosted a closed-door roundtable meeting Tuesday with federal, state and local leaders on the health and economic impacts from harmful algal blooms or HABs, and residents want to know what was said.

Neighbors in the Clipper Bay community say it’s just a matter of time before the algal blooms comes back and it becomes a living nightmare.

Today, Peter Formica can breathe easy outside his Cape Coral condo, but a year ago that wasn’t the case. Formica was scooping thick, blue-green algae out of his backyard every morning.

The closed-door meeting included Rooney, Gov. Ron DeSantis, representatives from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many others.

“We need answers, and if you’re saying that no one will give you the answers, well maybe they’re not the answers that we want to hear,” Formica said. “Maybe we want to hear what was really going on. I would think that after they met that they would give that information back to all of us homeowners.”

Local leaders that attended the meeting want homeowners to know that now is the time for continued collaboration and research.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane says after attending Tuesday’s meeting, he has the answers homeowners are looking for.

“I can tell my community if we have another red tide outbreak, you may want to consider these five issues. If you have these five symptoms go to the hospital and indicate, by the way, you live on Sanibel,” Ruane said.

Providing doctors the information they need to document health impacts is important, and Ruane says meeting Lee Health and federal officials face-to-face was beneficial because he knows who to call.

“Now, I have contacts at all different agencies that I didn’t have before,” Ruane said. “If we have a direct line to CDC, it’s a much better operation.”

A direct line might help coastal communities navigate dealing with red tide when it hits.

Red tide can cause respiratory issues for beachgoers and mass marine life deaths. Last year’s simultaneous algae and red tide outbreak created the worst water conditions Southwest Florida has seen, leaving leaders stumped on what to do and looking for support.

“There’s a lack of information,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Dr. Quay Dortch who also attended the meeting.

NOAA is another agency, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and Lee Health, who admits more knowledge and research is needed into blue green algae and red tide affects.

“This really became more about the scientists listening to what the problems are so we could better tailor our research to the problems,” Dortch said.

She says the meeting helped her better understand the impacts of red tide and blue-green algae, which in NOAA’s case, can lead to funding needed to provide solutions.

“Certainly, the meeting made us all feel the urgency of this so we all came home with to-do lists,” Dortch said.

WINK News reached out to the two Florida Gulf Coast University scientists about the health impacts discussed during the meeting, but both declined to comment, saying they were respecting Rooney’s decision to keep the meeting off the record.

Rooney is hosting another meeting Friday, May 10 at The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and it will be streamed online.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.