Fort Myers Beach businesses concerned over continued Lake O releases

Posted at 6:47 PM, Oct 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-13 18:47:47-04

The aging Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee has cleared another inspection. The Army Corps of Engineers has found no areas of concern, but with the lake's level at well over 17 feet, the Corps will likely be dumping runoff water into the Caloosahatchee River for a long time. Some businesses in Fort Myers Beach are concerned that brown, murky water flowing downstream will taint their shores - and drive away tourism.

"It can have a devastating effect on us long-term," said Scott Safford, general manager of the Sea Gypsy Inn in Fort Myers Beach. 

Safford said his beach inn is getting a lot of tourism now from people who might have gone to the Keys, which is still recovering from Hurricane Irma. But he has concerns that continued releases from Lake O could hurt business down the road.

"We're having a good October, (but) it's an anomaly," Safford said. "We're blessed right now with the business, but if the Lake O discharges keep happening, we're going to have problems."

"We've got to take care of our bread and butter," said John Heim, a clean water activist. "If we don't take care of our water quality, we won't have tourism."

Sanibel beaches are experiencing dark water. The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is urging the Army Corps of Engineers to continue maximum discharges in all directions, including south and east of Lake Okeechobee. Discharges into the Saint Lucie River were reduced due to high tides on the east coast.

Safford wishes reservoir projects to the south of Lake O could speed up, which would divert more lake runoff to the Everglades.

"I see some progress," he said. "It's not fast enough, but it's progress."

Jackie Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, said her office is getting calls every day from people asking about the water quality at the beaches. She said while the water is dark, it is considered safe for swimming.