Florida’s Ooze Causing Tourism Problems?
Florida topped 100 million tourists last year for the first time, and why not?
Start with the fact that in the Sunshine State we have, well, lots of sunshine. That puts us ahead of many states right there. We have beaches hugging the coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
We have lots of things to do. We have unmatched sunsets and great places to eat.
We have … green ooze?
Ooze that smells, as one resident in Jensen Beach told reporter Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times, “like death on a cracker.”
Yeah, we do.
Chances are excellent that won’t show up on any Chamber of Commerce poster, but images of the algae assault on beaches in Stuart and surrounding areas are sure showing up on national TV news reports.
The slime, which has been described as thick as guacamole, originated in Lake Okeechobee and basically ruined the lucrative Fourth of July weekend in some coastal enclaves. It led Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, and it also led to that favorite game of political leaders: Blame the other guy.
Scott said it’s the federal government’s fault because it hasn’t fixed the 88-year-old earthen Herbert Hoover Dike, which the state says offers protection against flooding during hurricanes but also might collapse if there is too much water in the lake.
That happened during in January, when rain totals were above normal. So, the Army Corps of Engineers pumped water, which happened to be loaded with pollutants, out of the lake and, voila! Algae bloom!
It’s a nice try for a misdirection play, but the trail of breadcrumbs leads back to the governor’s relentless relaxation of pollution standards. That included a move earlier this year that benefitted the U.S. Sugar corporation, which also was a major donor to Scott’s campaign.
Environmentalists already didn’t much care for Scott. He hasn’t exactly been a friend since taking office in 2010. Environmental laws can get in the way of business and that’s all this governor has ever cared about.
His silence was deafening after the Florida Legislature subverted the will of voters who in 2014 overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment requiring the state to purchase large tracts of land for conservation.
The Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) reported on a 2011 memo from the state Department of Environmental Regulation that directed officials to use legal action against polluters only as a last resort.
“Where noncompliance occurs despite your best efforts at education and outreach, your first consideration should be whether you can bring about a return to compliance without enforcement,” PEER quoted from a memo written by a DEP executive.
Yeah, well, “educating” polluters might work in some cases, but that policy also can be an invitation to cut corners.
“In terms of the environment, I think he’s the worst governor in modern Florida history,” Friends of the Everglades President Alan Farago told the Miami New Times.
That statement came in 2015, before the algae began to ooze.
For a state so reliant on the willingness of people from other states to visit here and spend lots of money, that’s a disaster
The question going forward is how to first clean up the mess – not an easy task by any means – and then how to avoid a recurrence in the future. A good first step would be for leaders to stop pointing fingers and realize that in Florida, the environment is everything. Conservation is everything. Environmental laws are there to protect that.
Or put in words this governor can best understand, large-scale slime clogging up waterways and polluting beaches is bad for business.