Columns

Lake Okeechobee Discharges? Sheriff Bill Snyder to the Rescue!

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: September 6, 2013 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

Just as I think the mercury in Martin County's crazy-mometer can't rise any higher, along comes Sean Barrett's doozie of a petition drive on Change.org.


Barrett, a computer technician who lives on a sewer-less, waterfront street in Port Salerno, apparently is so disgusted with the algae blooms and toxicity in Martin County waters, he decided somebody had to be threatened and, well, let's sic the sheriff on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Barrett's petition, if carried out to full cartoon fruition, plays in real time something like this:

A fleet of police cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing, screeches to a halt at the foot of the St. Lucie Lock. Why, look, it's Sheriff William Snyder and his deputies! They sure look mad.

The Martin County sheriff, steel chains thrown over his shoulder, gets out of the lead car, strides up to the lock, wraps the chains around the structure's gears and secures them with a padlock. "There!" Snyder announces. "I hereby declare it against the law for any more water from Lake Okeechobee to enter the St. Lucie Canal!"

This is precisely what the petition on the website seeks to do: "send our county sheriff to the locks controlling the toxic waste dumping of runoff water into the waterways of Martin County. ... The sheriff should close the locks and then seal the facility ..." It is addressed to County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard, with a shout-out to the other four commissioners.

I reached out twice to Sean Barrett, but he apparently didn't want to talk about his petition, at least not to me. Best as I can work out, the petition first was posted on Change.org sometime over Labor Day weekend. Since then -- and here's what got me -- it has elicited the support of some 32 people in five days. Yes, we already have 32 signees.

Think about it. Discharges are only ordered to keep the precarious Herbert Hoover Dike from breaking and drowning thousands of people. Yet, 32 people not only think the Martin County sheriff can charge onto federal land, but should -- and just like that, halt this public-safety function. They actually believe it's the answer to what they call "the unmitigated damages being caused to the wildlife, economy, public health and property values of our local taxpayers and residents."

The Army Corps, upon learning of the petition, deadpanned it with an official response. "We will continue to conduct water releases from the lake according to the schedule we have in force," said Terry Hines, the Corps' chief of corporate communications.

Snyder, meanwhile -- the same William Snyder who served in the Florida House before Martin County elected him its sheriff in 2012 -- tried to be kind about the petition. "There are a few things wrong with it," he said. "First, as a constitutional officer, nobody has authority over me on the job. I don't report to the County Commission. Certainly the County Commission can make a request of me, but it's up to me whether I carry it out.

"Second," he said, "the Constitution doesn't give me authority to walk onto federal property and take charge of anything. The only way I could do that is if a local judge gave me a binding order. Frankly, I can't see that happening."

Commission Chairwoman Heard, on the other hand, took a welcoming view of the petition. "It probably is appropriate," she told me.

"There's a lot of interest here in declaring this a state of emergency." She said she understands the sheriff doesn't have the authority literally to take over and halt a federal activity, but "people are angry and desperate and innovative in the ways they are expressing themselves" and there's not much wrong with that, she said.

Except -- and this is my problem with so much of what I hear said about the Lake Okeechobee discharges and polluted water in the Indian River Lagoon and Okeechobee basin -- it isn't helpful, isn't useful, is based on hysteria and therefore impedes rational conversation aimed at finding a solution.

Clearly, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, not just the Indian River Lagoon, all are in dire trouble. The status quo is unacceptable.

But the counties affected the most by pollution have the state's attention. They have the scientists' attention. They even have the federal government's attention, for what that's worth. Everybody is listening. But it would be a whole lot easier to hear if they didn't have to do it over an atmosphere of witch hunts, mob rule and threats of thuggery.

The petition is good for blaming something or someone else, and giving the sad illusion that no personal responsibility is called for.




Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.


Comments (18)

R.E. Dos
1:23AM SEP 21ST 2013
Goodbye Nancy. Don't let the door hit you. Do you regret leaving to be a lobbiest? Is Sugar paying you? What a thought. Get themselves an online propaganda machine and hire you to run it and pretend it's a newspaper. They wouldn't be the only ones who have done that.
Beverly Jones
12:46PM SEP 9TH 2013
This is oh so familiar territory. In the old days of the St. Lucie River Initiative there was lot of "joking" by some of the board members about doing just this - welding shut the damn locks. We didn't get too far then either! Maybe some dynamite to the big Lake O is the way to go. Then they will have to redesign the whole thing!
DeAnne
9:16AM SEP 7TH 2013
Witch hunt? Are you serious? If you Nancy had bothered to listen to any one speaking at the rallies you would know we are looking to unite ACROSS the state to find a solution. No one wants to hurt anyone. But this madness has to stop. Petitions like the one you are citing may be 'over the top' and wishful thinking -but they are in the minority, if you'd pay attention to the people on both coasts who are driving this you'd know what the real deal is. My advice to you before you write another piece of uninformed drivel is to get your facts straight. Calling attention to the fringe only pulls attention away from the true efforts to right this wrong. And I suggest that you take Kenny up on his offer of a tour, swim included.
Martin County oldtimer
12:50PM SEP 7TH 2013
I am like Nancy, I been around Martin County a long time. She doesn't need a lesson form anyone on the condition of the water. I used to go fishing with her and Mick for bluefish in the inlet more than 30 years ago. You aren't reading what she writes if you think she doesn't know what is going on or doesn't care. The Stupid News is conducting a witch hunt with one answer on their mind instead of looking at everything in the water. They make hysteria happen. They print up protest signs against the only politician who is helping us. You need to put the koolaid down & get educated yourself DeAnne.
DeAnne
5:41AM SEP 9TH 2013
My post was in regard to her painting all the people involved with the same brush. The majority of the folks involved are intelligent, well educated in this issue and have history in the area, as do you. If you hold up the exceptions (like the petition she is citing or the sign painters you object to) you give them credence and greatly diminish the efforts of others who are working so hard to find a solution that is amenable to everyone
JPowers
3:18PM SEP 7TH 2013
Too right. Martin County misses Nancy Smith.
R.E. Dos
1:25AM SEP 21ST 2013
Martin County does not miss Nancy Smith.

Not in the least.
Kenny Hinkle jr.
11:46PM SEP 6TH 2013
Have you seen the water? It's way past time to save our estuary and our reefs offshore. Any and all non violent efforts must be made to curb these discharges that the Clean Water Act would declare criminal. "Everyone is listening", but NO ONE is paying for solutions.
Mary Hartney
10:46AM SEP 6TH 2013
I enjoy your columns -- educational and often humorous. Great job!
Kenny Hinkle jr.
11:47PM SEP 6TH 2013
nothing funny here
Kenny Hinkle jr.
11:47PM SEP 6TH 2013
nothing funny here
wawoo
9:51AM SEP 6TH 2013
Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. Those are your people. They like nullifying. Whether it be the Constitution, reality, or what is best for all they want to nullify it.
And you have been a willing enabler so do not act suprised at what your support has wrought.
Kenny Hinkle jr.
12:03AM SEP 7TH 2013
Seriously, what rock are you sleeping under? I invite you to come swim in our toxic river today!
gordon
5:43PM SEP 6TH 2013
i live in martin county. i am one of nancy's so-called people if you mean republicans. the people behind the hysteria here are democrats. the newspaper turned liberal, the county commishes are liberals except for doug smith, ginny sherlock who runs the county like she owns it is a liberal, their kgb who speaks at all the commission meetings are dems and liberals and maggie hurchalla who rewrote the comp plan to steal land is the biggest democrat and liberal of them all.
Kenny Hinkle jr.
12:26AM SEP 7TH 2013
Gordon, I would be happy to take you for a swim in our river and or give you a tour of our TOXIC WATERS anytime. This is not a liberal, conservative, tea party, democratic, or republican thing. THIS IS A FLORIDA THING!
gordon
3:09AM SEP 7TH 2013
i don't need convincing kenny. i know how bad the water is. i agree with nancy tho that the hysteria hurts doesn't help. witch hunting farmers doesn't help when there are so many ingredients in our nasty waters. we got a newspaper that already made up its mind. we got a complicated and expensive problem to solve here we don't need petitions based on hysteria we need all of us looking for the best answers
wawoo
8:51PM SEP 6TH 2013
Like I said.
Mike Conner
9:31PM SEP 24TH 2013
It's really pretty simple. The discharge water needs to go where sugar farming is. Not all of the land, just the acreage the growers agreed to sell.

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