County, local officials blast Lake O plan | News, Sports, Jobs

Kevin Ruane

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Sitting across from Col. Andrew Kelly, Jacksonville District Commanding Officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the conference room of the Lee County Administration Building, Chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners Kevin Ruane condemned the Okeechobee Publications Management Plan presented by Kelly Lake.

Political leaders from Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Cape Coral attended the July 26 meeting and promised Ruane that they would combat the proposed Army Corps Handbook as it stands. The manual sets out the instructions for managing Lake Okeechobee.

Lee County’s planned releases into the Calooshatchee River could create an even worse situation than the county’s 2018 if it comes to a heavy rainy season, Ruane said.

“We need an open heart surgery” he said after the meeting, describing how much work it would take to change the plan so that it would be acceptable to Lee County.

Dan DeLisi, advisor to the Lee County government, described the manual as “Train wreck” and said he was “dismayed” with the proposals of the Army Corps. He said most of the problem lies in a “Great inequality of flows and releases”, thereby directing fewer streams into east Florida and more into Lee County’s waters.

“We demand balance” DeLisi said, adding that the changes “no fair distribution”

Ruane expressed alarm at the speed with which the manual is being pushed and vowed to fight against it.

“It seems like it’s rammed into our throats” he said. “I can assure you that in this case we cannot have that. I’ll do whatever I can in my willpower to make sure that doesn’t happen. “

Kelly said there were still some “Flexibility” and further decisions and changes could be made over the course of the next month regarding the direction of the plan. Afterwards, models of the newly planned flows and releases will be distributed in September. The first guidelines will be published in September and October. There will be further public input between October and February. Final approval of the plan is not expected until September 2022 after federal agencies review it.

Ruane stated that Lee County cannot afford the devastating economic impact he said “crushed” the area in 2018 during the red tide outbreak.

Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith said she was cautiously optimistic but the water spills needed to be evenly distributed.

“I really believe that we have been overlooked and underprotected for a very long time.” She said.

Smith said she believed the plan was a starting point.

“I know that we are all tied to the economy of our water quality.” She said.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy described how badly Fort Myers Beach was injured by the 2018 Red Tide event and how it devastated marine life “switch off” Tourism.

“Is that the best you can do?” The Mayor of Cape Coral, John Gunter, asked Kelly.

Jason Engle of the Army Corps said: “There aren’t many win-win wins left.”

Kelly said he was after the meeting “Not particularly surprised” through the reaction.

“We got some letters” since the manual was first published last week, he said.

“We fully understand where the Caloosahatchee stakeholders are,” said Kelly.

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