CLEWISTON — Hundreds of residents wearing yellow #OurLivesMatterToo t-shirts of Clewiston gathered Friday July 29 at a town hall meeting at New Harvest Church to further discuss the accusations of Lake Okeechobee, and local farmers of their alleged responsibility of the ongoing Treasure Coast algae crisis; and solutions to positive water storage and treatment projects.
Local activists are infuriated, and have stated multiple initiatives to rid their coast of the algae; even ideas such as eliminating Herbert Hoover Dike and flooding the communities of the Glades and send the water South.
Since the 1928 hurricane that wiped away hundreds of lives and houses in the Glades area, it has been a lingering fear for many residents that recall the tragedy.
Residents of the Glades will defend and take a stand to fight for their community and families, and agree to disagree on sending the water south.
Glades County Resident Tammy-Jackson Moore stated, “I think this is an opportunity for us to just get out and let people know that we are concerned and we matter, we care about this area. We want this area to remain whole.”
”It’s good that something knowledgeable is going on here so that we can understand too and we can be a part of huge decision making that will affect all of us,” said Vanessa Pelham, a resident of Clewiston.
According to South Florida Water Management data, the water of Lake Okeechobee is actually lower in phosphorus and nitrogen than the water entering the estuaries from the St. Lucie basin.
In addition, SFWMD studies have also shown that water flowing south from sugar farms is actually cleaner than water entering sugar cane fields.
Lake Okeechobee releases to the Treasure Coast keep water levels in the lake from creating immense pressure on the Herbert Hoover dike, according to news reports. Unfortunately due to rainfall in the Kissimmee River basin north of the big lake, the water levels of the lake have continued to rise.
News reports further state that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who are responsible for managing the dike, are making continuous efforts to keep water levels between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet above sea level; but their efforts are challenging to manage with the inconsistent weather of the Sunshine State as an intruding factor.
Activists have certainly voiced further solutions and concerns, with media statements indicating their extreme measures to even buy U.S. Sugar’s land to put an end to the algae bloom, with the Glades community residents being concerned of recent comments stating “eminent domain.”
Proceeding forward to purchase this land would result in hundreds of jobs lost from the factory, and an attempt to rid the agriculture industry Clewiston has been known for generations.
Even the thought of this factor coming to life is alarming for many residents, and a major concern for numerous families that reside in the Glades communities.
United States Congressman Alcee Hastings also made an appearance at the town hall meeting to speak to the Glades community on his behalf of the situation.
“It is important to me. I have been working on Everglades issues for at least 24 years consecutively,” said Congressman Hastings. “This issue is a long-term issue. Even though I represent rural and urban, my heart is rural.”
Other leaders of the community appeared to speak on the panel, including Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner, and Hendry County Commissioner Janet Taylor.
Also attending the meeting were mayors of Pahokee, South Bay, City of Clewiston Commissioners, and a number of Clewiston pastors.
“Once we are united and they hear our side of the story, it’s going to be okay,” said Commissioner Taylor. “I want our voices to be heard that we are not the problem. Let’s come up with some realistic solutions, not solutions that are going to benefit some communities and destroy the other.”
The issue has been a constant concern for decades, and has only resurfaced this year since around February. Glades communities have been silent for a long while amidst the voices of Martin County and the government, but have decided their voices will no longer be hushed.
Stephen G. Leighton, resident of Stuart, also attended the meeting; extending his hand from Martin County inviting both communities to stop finger pointing and to work together to solve the issue.
“I want to see the communities that are essentially against us to understand that our lives are just as important.”
Both Commissioners Turner and Taylor encourage Glades area residents to continually engage in future town hall meetings, in efforts to make sure the voices of all Glades communities are heard, and further inform themselves on a concerning issue that will affect all residents entirely.