Amid all the noise being made over algae blooms and nutrient-stifled waterways supposedly originating from Lake Okeechobee, the Lake O Business Alliance has steadily been raising its profile online to counter what LOBA Founder/President Julia du Plooy of Clewiston calls misinformation wrongly aiming blame at the Big Lake’s farming communities.
But, rather than redirect the criticism toward other residents of the watersheds that empty into the algae-fouled Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and canals connected to Lake Okeechobee, Ms. du Plooy says the alliance’s overriding social-media message has been more along the lines of “Let’s work together to fix the problems.”
In a series of Facebook posts roughly coinciding with and continuing since the July 14 rally at Clewiston’s public recreation area along the Herbert Hoover Dike, the group has put up information aimed at injecting more truth into all the contention over the algae and excessive nutrient pollution that spurs its growth.
“The group,” though, speaks mostly just through Ms. du Plooy’s work. Formed in 2016, it has a board of directors consisting of local people who have full-time jobs, as do most of its volunteers. “We’re a true nonprofit, so most of the day-to-day stuff is done by one person — me,” she said.
“It’s a passion that drives most of this,” explained the stay-at-home mom. She grew up here and earned a degree at Florida State, then left for a time to start a career. After moving back to the area when she got engaged, she said, she began to wonder why local small businesses and ordinary working citizens were “not educated on the topic and understanding the true issues and the sources of water pollution.”
So she linked up with other Glades residents, people involved in agriculture or local politics, including board members Hillary Hyslope, a longtime businesswoman and director of the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce; area native Lewis Pope III, co-owner of Pope Farms Inc. and president of Pahokee’s Chamber of Commerce; and Jon Farner, a Hendry County native and information technology consultant currently working full-time for Wedgworth Inc.
Together, they aim to promote a unified effort of local businesses and officials around Lake Okeechobee to influence state and federal policy, legislation and regulation toward creating/enhancing a positive business climate for the region’s communities. Their mission is to organize, motivate and educate businesspeople in the Glades on issues affecting sustainability and commerce and to develop a unified voice supporting positive change.
Restoring the original “River of Grass” is truly not an option, she points out. What would it look like? “It’s not just flooding out Big Sugar, as they call it; it would be flooding out must of the east coast,” she said.
“The general public is being swayed with mistruth. And so I think those recent posts really put it out there to show people the sources of water, where water should be flowing that it isn’t flowing and the reason we have this major issue on our hands.”
About the activism that seems to be taking hold in the region, Ms. du Plooy said: “I’m absolutely proud of the people in the Glades. A lot of community members in the Glades have really stepped up. I think it’s because they’re getting more educated, and they feel empowered to speak up because they do have the facts.
“I think the more that we educate our community, the better off we are,” Ms. du Plooy concluded.