Cerabino: What does Enterprise Florida have to do with Lake O?


There’s a spillover.

That’s the best way to explain the complicated web of politics surrounding Lake Okeechobee’s dirty water.

There was a spillover crowd at Pahokee High School last Friday that had come to tell Florida Sen. President Joe Negron that they didn’t like his plan to convert 60,000 acres of farmland south of the lake into a water storage reservoir.

The auditorium held 400, but about a thousand people showed up, and so they spilled into the parking lot.

This is what happens when unemployment around the lake is at 25 percent and you hear there’s a plan to store excess water from the lake by flooding the local farmland, which perhaps might cost about 4,000 jobs.

“Please don’t make this about saving one area of your district at the expense of another,” Janet Taylor, a Glades Lives Matter leader, told Negron.

Yes, Negron’s district spills over. He doesn’t have luxury of representing people who share the same narrow interests when it comes to handling Lake Okeechobee’s water.

When the lake requires draining, something that happens routinely during the rainy season, it’s flushed out to the rest of Negron’s district, along the St. Lucie Estuary extending to Martin County’s coastal communities.

Because this water’s rich in harmful nutrients that strangle sea grasses and kills sea life, it tends to cause algae blooms — smelly, bright green blankets over the surface of the water.

So if the dirty water goes to Stuart, he gets an earful from those people, and if the water ends up getting pumped into Glades farmland, he gets what he got last Friday night.

In a simpler world, the water would just be allowed to stay Lake Okeechobee during the rainy months.

But authority over the lake levels goes to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has determined that its earthen dike might fail if the water gets too high. And that could lead to a spillover that drowns the population in the Glades.

So the water’s going to get pumped somewhere.

“For me, it’s unsustainable, long-term, to have situation that when the lake gets to 16 feet, we are just going open up flood gates and have discharges hundreds of billions of gallons of water east and west,” Negron told the Pahokee crowd.

But the way they see it, the blame for the dirty water spills over to the coastal residents too. After all, all their leaky septic tanks flowing into the estuary are also contributing to the algae blooms.

State lawmakers have long known that septic tanks were a water pollution problem. Five years ago, they passed a law that required the state’s 2.6 million septic tanks to be inspected every five years.

But with the zeal against government regulations running high, and homeowners complaining about paying $400 to get their septic tanks inspected, the lawmakers later eliminated the mandatory inspections and let the leaky septic tanks continue.

I guess you could say that their reluctance to impose government burdens on their constituents spilled over onto their plan to protect Florida’s waterways.

And now there’s a new political complication that’s blooming in advance to the next wave of blue-green algae.

It’s the political feud between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over the fate of Enterprise Florida.

For the governor, this is his pet project to bring new businesses to the state and to create high-paying jobs here. To Corcoran, this is a failed corporate welfare program that hands millions of taxpayer dollars to businesses who are, for the most part, already doing business in the state, and not creating the number of jobs they’re promising.

Negron, as the leader of the Florida Senate, has been neutral in this battle, but maybe not for long.

That’s because Negron’s got something he wants — a bill to buy up the farmland south of Lake Okeechobee to be used as a reservoir during the rainy season — and something he’s got to give, a potentially decisive voice on the fate of Enterprise Florida.

I know. These things sounds unconnected.

Giving tax breaks to businesses looking to expand or relocate to Florida might not seem related to redirecting the water leaving Lake Okeechobee.

But there’s a spillover.



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