Both state and federal funding continue to come in as local governments attempt to fight the the impact that blue-green algae and red tide are having on the ecology and economy of Southwest Florida.
Governor Rick Scott announced this week that an additional $4 million in grant funding has been made available through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for communities impacted by red tide and blue-green algae, bringing the total amount of grant funding to $13 million. Lee County has secured $3.9 million of that funding to fight the duel threat of algaes threatening the area’s beaches, rivers, and canals.
“In Florida, we know that when red tide makes it to our shores, as it has for generations, this naturally-occurring algae can have unexpected and prolonged impacts on our Gulf Coast,” said Scott. “That’s why we will not stop providing relief and resources to every impacted community dealing with red tide.”
As of September 11, Lee County, along with its contractors and beach communities, had picked up 4,143,577 pounds of dead fish and other marine debris. The first pilot program set up by the county to fight blue-green algae by separating the solid from the liquid and treating the water at a plant in North Fort Myers, had collected and processed 275,000 gallons of algae slurry out of 15 total canals as of September 17.
The county is also looking at a second pilot clean-up project with a company called Solitude Lake Management, which has an office in Fort Myers. The company would use ozone to clean the water, blasting it with tiny bubbles and killing the algae. The advantage to this technique would be, that in theory, it could be accomplished without having to actually transfer the water to another site, saving a large amount of time and manpower.
As part of a spending bill passed on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be receiving $1 million in funding to assist those facing health issues related to blue-green algae exposure. Priority for assistance will be given to the 13 countries that have been declared as under a state of emergency due to algae, which includes Lee County. Both of Florida’s senators, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, fought for the inclusion of the funding in the bill.
A poll from Florida Atlantic University showed Nelson and Scott in a statistical tie in their race for the Senate, with algae being a major concern of those who were surveyed. The issue may become a crucial one in the race, as 32.2 percent of respondents said the state government was most responsible for the crisis, while 13.3 percent laid the blame at the feet of the federal government.
Local governments are trying to address not only the ecological, but also the economic impact of algae by encouraging residents to get out and support beach-based businesses. County owned parking lots at Fort Myers Beach are waiving fees through the end of the month, and tolls to visit Sanibel Island will be suspended from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23 in time for the Island Hopper Songwriter Festival.
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