FORT MYERS, Fla. - For the first time, the Army Corps of Engineers visited southwest Florida to hear your concerns about Lake Okeechobee fresh water releases that began in May. They spoke at a public meeting at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center.
We asked and got the information you need: is there any end in sight to those releases? And, what's being done now to clean up the brown, murky Gulf?
This meeting was to help get locals up-to-speed on what the Army Corp is doing, and why they're doing it. A big message Thursday night was that officials are working to solve the water issues, and they will, but it won't be a quick fix.
Colonel Alan Dodd with the Army Corp of Engineers said at the end of August, Lake Okeechobee was 3 feet higher than the same time a year ago. While it won't take a miracle to manage the water, he said it will take years and money.
"We have to maintain our balance of responsibility to protect life and safety with the Herbert Hoover Dike with all the other responsibilities to protect the environment, to manage the water levels as we need to," Dodd said.
For now, Dodd said releases to the east and west will be the only viable solution. "It's all according to the Lake O regulations schedule," Dodd said. "I don't see us stopping any of the releases anytime soon because as you know, we still have a long wet season ahead of us and we are looking at the hurricane and weather models through the next few months."
Residents and business owners losing customers pleaded for help now. "We don't need to be the dumping ground," one man said. "And, we have been for how many years. I understand there is a long-term solution to the problem. But, the short term solution is pipes and pumps. Let's just get it out of here."
"This is our BP," another man said. "It's the death of our economy. It's the death of our neighborhoods. You have to step up now. It's time."
We also asked about local businesses who've lost money because of the water conditions. Colonel Dodd said if anyone files a claim with them, they will evaluate it, but he couldn't say right now if they would or would not support reimbursing businesses.
Dodd said Army Corps of Engineers wants to be completely open and honest and will accept every single invitation they get to speak to the public.