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  1. Opinion

Maxwell: Fouling Florida's environment? Simply insane

Published Oct. 11, 2013

VERO BEACH

Albert Einstein said that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

In Florida, environmentalists have their unique definition of insanity: knowingly destroying our environment — one of our major economic resources — while blocking efforts to slow or stop the destruction.

This brand of insanity plays out daily and has for decades, from the moment business owners, their political supporters and lobbyists learned that the abuse of our precious wild places can bring huge profits.

Here on the southeast coast, the Indian River Lagoon, the St. Lucie River and its estuary are being polluted like never before — perhaps irreversibly — by an algae slime that proliferates from excess manure, sewage and fertilizer released by municipalities and, of course, from Lake Okeechobee.

Research clearly shows that most of the nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee come from tributaries in the northern Everglades. This is Big Sugar country, the Everglades Agricultural Area, where most of the nation's sugarcane is grown. Adjacent regions also are affected by discharges from the lake.

Elected officials and others have known for more than 30 years about our nutrient-rich water problems, but they consistently have put business interests ahead of eliminating the sources of the pollution. The discharge of dirty water from Lake Okeechobee is not new. It has been going on since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the dike around the lake decades ago and created a reservoir system that enabled the sugar industry to operate without major interruptions or effective regulation.

That is a clear sign of the insanity.

This year, because of unusually high rainfall into the lake, the Army Corps discharged unprecedented volumes of polluted water into the tributaries, further enriching algal blooms and releasing muck that smothers vital sea grass beds. Many scientists believe the toxic blooms, which have been increasing over the years, may have caused the deaths of untold numbers of fish, hundreds of pelicans, dozens of dolphins and more than 100 manatees.

Although this damage is taking a heavy toll on businesses that depend on a healthy environment for their incomes, too many owners continue to contribute money to the same cast of characters in Tallahassee who refuse to pass legislation to curb the pollution.

For many years, environmental groups have identified several key areas that elected officials and other leaders need to address to fix our most serious water pollution problems. In August, a coalition of environmentalists sent a statement to lawmakers outlining measures to stop the toxic algae scum in the Indian River Lagoon and other waters.

Here is part of the statement: "Septic tanks need to be cleaned out and connected to treatment plants, failing sewer lines that pour sewage into the estuary need to be replaced, sewage treatment plants must be upgraded, fertilizer ordinances must be adopted statewide, and, most importantly, agricultural pollution — the primary source of the filthy water into Lake Okeechobee — needs to be regulated."

Over the years, our governors and legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, have done little to fix these problems. They have let the polluting industries and their lobbyists write the regulations. It does not take rocket science to spot the loopholes. The fox is being allowed to guard the henhouse.

How insane is that?

Last week, the Indian River County Commission, the St. Lucie County Commission, the Martin County Commission and the cities of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie Village signed a resolution asking Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency regarding the Indian River Lagoon. The resolution implored the governor to issue an executive order to protect the waters of these areas. Scott has the constitutional authority to issue the order and to hold violators accountable.

We should be encouraged by the action of these local governments. However, because the governor and the Legislature are value business over the environment, we should expect the environmental insanity to continue unabated.

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