As a toxic blue-green algae bloom in the Caloosahatchee River floats into its second putrid week, state legislators representing Lee County have asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency because of the threat it and a persistent red tide bloom pose to the area's economy and waterways.
The letter, sent Thursday, said:
"A state of emergency would effectuate a swift and efficient state response to the imminent dangers of the bluegreen algae threat to Lee County by identifying available funds state agencies could use to respond to this threat. Additionally, we ask that you continue to request the water management districts explore and pursue all options that will reduce discharges, including storage north, east, west, and south of Lake Okeechobee."
The letter was signed by state representatives Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, Matt Caldwell, R- North Fort Myers, Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and state senators Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, Kahtleen Passidomo, R-Naples and Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid.
In 2016, when a similar bloom plagued the southern part of the state, the governor declared an emergency that helped facilitate loans for 54 businesses statewide claiming harm. Twelve were in Lee County.
Other than freeing up loan money, Caldwell said a declaration would raise awareness of the problem. "The immediate legal impact is obviously limited," he said. "I think the issue deserves attention year 'round — not just when it metastasizes."
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, who attended a meeting of water advocates convened by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, Thursday, is frustrated at the lack of solutions.
"I hear people clamoring around saying, 'Let's do something,' but I have not heard a good solution," Mann said. "And we had every expert in Southwest Florida (at Nelson's meeting) but I didn't hear anybody there say, 'Well, we need to do specifically this or that' ... That's my frustration. I don't know what these experts would have me do (because) when it gets around specifics or scientific suggestions, they’re few and far between."
Although the governor's office did not make the sought-after declaration Friday, a spokesman defended his record on combating algae, including "ordering the Department of Environmental Protection to issue an emergency declaration to move more water south of the Lake (Okeechobee) and installing water monitoring stations on the Caloosahatchee River so water experts have more data to mitigate the problem," wrote Communications Director John Tupps in an email.
"Also, he signed a bill that expedited the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and secured full federal funding to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike three years ahead of schedule — something Congress has failed to do for decades. He will continue to identify ways to secure the clean water that Florida residents deserve and will never stop fighting to alleviate the federal Corps’ harmful water discharges.”
Caldwell hasn't given up hope. He pointed out that when the legislative delegation asked for a declaration in 2016, Scott didn't issue it immediately.
"We will see. Obviously when we asked him last time we dealt with this, he obliged ... I think in just a few days," he said. " So I'm certainly hopeful."