Sunday, January 26, 2014

They Are Not Going Away! Florida Activists Vow to Hold Politicians Accountable For Pollution of Indian River Lagoon

I attended a fundraiser last night in Stuart, Florida,  to support efforts to stop the pollution of the Indian River Lagoon.  I’ve been visiting this area off and on for the past 10 years or so, drawn by the twisting mangroves and their “walking” roots, the magnificent birds, the constantly changing colors of sky and their reflections on the water.

I supported the fund-raiser because I can see with my own eyes the damage that is occurring. Before the 2004 hurricanes, I would see multitudes of birds--ibises, herons, egrets, storks, sanderlings, and squadrons of pelicans flying in formation.  Pelicans were also common on the beach, looking solemnly down their long fishing beaks at people surf-casting.
I have no data but only my own observation that after the hurricanes, the number of birds of all kinds diminished sharply.
 And then, last summer, to prevent a disastrous break of the dike holding in Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps of Engineers released billions of gallons of horribly polluted fresh water into the Lagoon. The Lagoon is actually a salt-freshwater estuary, a very special place that when healthy supports 700 species of fish and, in general, more diversity of life than any other estuary in North America.
“Massive biological kills” resulted, according to the Indian RiverKeeper, and a level of toxicity in the water so high that people were warned not to even touch it.
A similar dump of polluted lake water occurred in 2001, but nothing was done to prevent a repeat, despite numerous studies of the situation and recommendations to fix it. And another dump of polluted lake water will occur again the next time there is heavy rain or, more catastrophically, a hurricane that hits the Lake area.
I met the keeper of the Indian River last night, Marty Baum. Yes, there is one, an energetic and forceful man who accepts living on a $24,000/year salary because of his love of the Lagoon.
He is part of a dedicated group of River Keepers joined in the Waterkeeper Alliance who stand guard over our precious rivers, often frustrated and helpless in the face of politicians, developers and wealthy business owners who can’t see that harming the rivers is harming all of us.
But last night, the activists gathered to raise money for the River Keeper shouted their intentions: They are not going away!
They vowed to hold politicians running for office this year to a litmus test:
 Will they support enforcement of a Florida law that says polluters must pay for their pollution?
That concept was actually voted into law by Florida’s residents in the 1990’s, but a court ruled that the language contained no mechanism for enforcement; Florida’s legislature would have to create that.
Did the legislature act? No, not in this state where most politicians genuflect before wealthy sugar barons and developers.
The activists also vowed to campaign against a proposed new state law that would prevent municipalities like Stuart from making any rules about the environment.
Stuart is one of the few Florida municipalities that has worked hard to retain the natural beauty of this state by limiting the height of residential buildings to four stories, for example. No towering condominium buildings here.
Now the city is being sued by the likes of King Ranch, which raises sugar can in the Everglades and not cattle. It is another of Florida’s sugar cane companies whose websites tout their environmental consciousness.  No mention of the lawsuit there.
To overcome these powerful interests will take nothing less than the passion I saw last night, and thousands more people willing to take a stand. 
As for me, no, I am not going away!

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