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Nancy Smith

Next Martin County Visit, Rick Scott Should Use the Bill Nelson Approach

August 20, 2013 - 6:00pm

How is it Bill Nelson comes to Martin County with empty pockets and empty promises and gets a hero's welcome, but Gov. Rick Scott flies in with $40 million to help solve the polluted St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon (added to the $20 million from last year) and he virtually gets mooned by the local press?

Where are the "five tough questions" for Bill Nelson and Congress?

How about U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy's five questions?When is he going to start pushingfor money in the House?

Only Scott gets questions, apparently. And by the way, they ranged from Why not consider legal action over the Lake Okeechobee releases, like suing the Army Corps for violating the federal Clean Water Act? to Would you commit to decline future sugar donations?

In the battle to fight toxic pollution intheestuary and lagoon-- a vast economic engine in Martin County --Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers has chosen its friends and foes. And fie-fi-foe-fum, Rick Scott,guess where you fell in the pecking order?Sorry, fella.

Tuesday morning The Stuart Newspassed out"Stop Killing Our Lagoon"signsand itseditorial staff posed for a photoholding them up in the newsroom.There was no "Thanks for the money, Guv." There was, in capital letters,"FIVE QUESTIONS OUR GOVERNOR MUST ANSWER" on the front page. OK, that's good. Questions are good. But why only for Rick Scott?

I would link the story so you can see, but the newspaper has a pay wall up. Unless you subscribe, you don't have access to the online edition.

Some folks in Tallahassee who did see the story and follow the governor's travails at the St. Lucie lock Tuesdayadvised Scott,"Just take the money back, they're ingrates." Lucky for Martin,the governor is neitherpetty nor vindictive. Say what you want about Scott, he is nothing if not focused, and right now he's focused on water discharges and toxins in Martin County and finding money for the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area project.

So, I have to wonder,is it wise for the press to sic the dogs on the one guy who is extending the county a helping hand?God knows, nobody in Washington is. How wise is it tokeep on miningreaders' emotions with fist-bump "gotchas"when you have a chance to help the estuary? Mean signs waving in his face aren't an incentive for Scott to bust his gut on Martin's account. As I said, he's not a petty man. But human nature being what it is, it's easier to do nice things forthe people who like you.

The announcement of the $40 million for Martin County wasinitially posted in a letter to Brig. Gen. Donald E. Jackson, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Atlantic Division. Itcame Monday, a day before Scott's tour of the lock. What it said isthat "inaction" by the federal government to maintain the Herbert Hoover dike system around Lake Okeechobee has resulted in a need to relieve stress on the system through water releases. It was strong enough to get Jackson's attention.

On Wednesday Scott issued a statement following the Corps of Engineers decision to significantly reduce flows from Lake Okeechobee into South Florida estuaries. According to the Corps, a 33 percent reduction of flow from Lake Okeechobee into the C-44 canal iseffective immediately,and by weeks end, it will be further reduced up to approximately 57 percent.

Said Scott, Yesterday, I expressed my concern to Col. Dodd about how families in South Florida were being impacted by the Corps release of water from Lake Okeechobee into regional estuaries. Now the Corps has determined it can significantly reduce these flows without compromising the Lake Okeechobee Dike system. While today is a good step forward, theres much more to be done.

"Any amount of water from the lake thats dumped into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers impacts families in the area. With more than $2.5 billion already invested, Florida families will continue to do their part in restoring area waterways, but we need the federal government to step up and fulfill their obligations.

Read the governors letter to the Army Corps here.

Newspaper aside, local officials in the Treasure Coast area expressed appreciation for the $40 million budget item, which still needs the Legislature's approvalnext session:

Chris Dzadovsky, St. Lucie County Commissioner, said, It is encouraging that Governor Scott is taking an active role in the issues we face with the onslaught of filthy water being discharged into our waterways and killing local businesses our economy, and our environment. More needs to be done, and intergovernmental (local, state, and federal)cooperation will be essential in producing solutions.

Sarah Heard, chair and District 4 commissioner Martin County Board of County Commissioners, said, We applaud Governor Scott for taking the necessary action of allocating state funds to the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, a critical component of the Indian River Lagoon-South (IRL-S) Project. These funds will help speed up this project, which upon completion, will provide some relief to the ailing St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. However, we continue to urge all levels of government to support full funding of all phases of the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area and all components of the IRL-S Project. The IRL-S Project will help reduce the harmful impacts our waterways have endured.

The crisis in the St. Lucie estuary demands immediate solutions, said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director. The natural water flow of the Everglades has been altered so severely that a single, rainy summer can cause devastating impacts to our coastal estuaries and native birds and wildlife. Governor Scotts commitment of $40 million will bring needed restoration benefits to the estuary sooner.

Sewall's Point Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch said, "Governor Rick Scott's recommendation to put forth $40 million, in 2014, toward completing Martin County's C-44, Storm Water Treatment Area, and Reservoir project, is a gift. It is a gift in that with the support of the Legislature it could become a reality; it is a gift in that the gesture recognizes the importance of this local watershed project by our governor; and it is a gift in that it creates discussion and education on change regarding the Lake Okeechobee discharges. I am very thankful."

So am I. Martin County is going to need every penny to complete the plan for IRL-S.

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

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