Lee County is looking to the state legislature to help pick up the tab for the costs it expects to incur from cleaning up the blue-green algae that is currently clogging the waterway of Southwest Florida.
Lee County Commission Chair Cecil Pendergrass met with representatives from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday to discuss strategies for removing the algae and how the project would be paid for. Fresh water releases into the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee can damage the balance of natural estuaries, creating an increase in algal blooms, but the natural pattern of increased rain and heat can also be a contributing factor. Pendergrass said that the first step is finding a vendor who can properly dispose of the algae.
“We have some vendors coming in who are going to do some demos for us, to show us what they can do to clean up the canals,” Pendergrass said in a phone interview Wednesday evening.
Those demonstrations could begin as early as Monday. Because the process for cleanup has not yet been determined, the commissioner said that he could not be certain about how long the process would take or what the total cost would be, but Pendergrass expects the majority of the expenditure to be reimbursed.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency after touring the waters of Southwest Florida last week, which Pendergrass said could open up 90 percent reimbursement for what the county spends on the cleanup. Pendergrass said additional grants to defray the costs are also supposed to be coming from the state legislature this week, but no matter how the funding the county receives, the project still needs to be done.
“Due to the conditions, no matter what the cost is, my position is going to be we have to do what we have to do to clean it up,” said Pendergrass. “This is our livelihood, these are our residents’ backyards, we need to get this cleaned up.”
Even after the cleanup, freshwater discharges are likely to continue for years to come until water management projects can direct water from Lake Okeechobee elsewhere, causing further algae blooms. Commissioners have already sent a request to President Donald Trump to allow for more water management flexibility, creating options like sending more of the water south and away from the Caloosahatchee.
Pendergrass said that, for now, the commission plans to focus on the clean up ahead of them and continue to lobby for improved water management option on a state and federal level.
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