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Time to Stop Lying to the People about Our Water Woes

August 20, 2014 - 6:00pm

I've written some variation of this letter many times over the last decade and each time I've set it aside, hewing to the old advice, "If you can't say something nice " But then, I am upbraided by supporters for leaving charges unanswered, saying silence is agreement.

But this past Saturday, The News-Press ran what is at least the third op-ed in 2014 penned by Ray Judah and directly attacking me not only for my votes, but my fundamental character. So I am finally breaking down and giving an answer.

While Ray Judah wants you to believe I am bought off, the fact is, every member of the Legislature voted for the 2013 Everglades Act, including members like Rep. Mark Pafford, the incoming Democratic leader in the House and current CEO of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation.

Of course, farmers receive a benefit from the flood control system, but that's nothing special. It's the same benefit that roughly 3 million Floridians in Wellington and Miami Lakes, and at the Sawgrass Mall receive. Because they all sit in the same exact flood plain, both farm and city.

And it's the same benefit that nearly 1 million Floridians in Lehigh Acres, Cape Coral and Fort Myers receive because they all drain straight into the Caloosahatchee.

Our river provides the largest single drain for the whole system and we in Lee County happily join in, draining hundreds of square miles directly into the river. In fact, in the 2013 rainy season, roughly 50 percent of the floodwater came straight from us here in Southwest Florida.

I personally began to involve myself in Everglades issues after the 2004-2005 hurricanes and was thankful to be appointed to a volunteer advisory committee. But from my very first meeting, it was obvious that Lee County interests had not been taken seriously for a very long time.

Unfortunately, for much of the last 30 years, an all-consuming obsession with sugar farmers prevailed in Lee County government. As statewide policymakers looked for solutions to heal the Everglades and our estuaries, the inability to see past this obsession meant we stopped getting invited to the table.

I place this loss of credibility directly on Ray Judah. His reputation for belligerence made him infamous; so much so that his electoral defeat in 2012 is still a topic of regular gleeful discussion by public servants as far away as Jacksonville and Pensacola.

Ray's modus operandi was to bully his colleagues on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, to intimidate staff in direct violation of the Lee County Charter, and wantonly insult every public official and private property owner who didn't agree with his narrow views.

Both previous and current state legislators have worked diligently to restore our lost credibility, and progress is being made. I am proud to have worked with stakeholders and colleagues to bring the first-ever water quality project to the Caloosahatchee.

Combining that with funding for the C-43 Reservoir and water quality projects in Alva and North Fort Myers, we are making a difference. Projects like this were only dreams a few years ago, but now Southwest Florida has a real seat at the table.

If we want to continue to have that seat, we must enable constructive leaders, not destructive naysayers. The old politics of division will not solve our woes. I do not claim to have a monopoly on wisdom. I simply offer myself as someone with a passion for our issues and a willingness to listen to every party. Everyone willing to meet those simple terms is welcome to grab a seat next to me.

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, serves as chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee in the Florida House of Representatives. This committee, among other issues, is charged with oversight of water resource policy for the state of Florida.

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