Governor declares State of Emergency in Lee County

Posted at 2:21 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-04 08:06:06-04

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott Thursday afternoon added Lee and Palm Beach Counties to the counties previously declared part of a state of emergency due to the unusually high presence of algae in local waterways.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the executive order Wednesday. It allows state and local agencies to take swift action to mitigate the spread of algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by redirecting the flow of water in and out of Lake Okeechobee.

Scott is also directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to address the issues caused by blooms.

MORE COVERAGE: Fox 4 Toxic Water page

In a prepared statement, Scott also called on the federal government to approve permits for Florida's dispersed water management programs.

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Wednesday, both Martin County Commissioners and the city of Stuart declared local state of emergencies.

They  will remain in place for the next seven days and allow the governments to streamline efforts to finance projects that could remedy the algae situation that is creating headaches for thousands this summer.

For four decades, Gary Dowd has been taking care of boats.  He's the owner of Dockside Marine Services and says the small algae in the Manatee Pocket didn’t stop him from diving Wednesday.

“This is the cleanest water in the area," said Dowd as he dragged his equipment back to his truck.

But Dowd says what he’s seeing elsewhere these days, is unlike anything he's ever seen.

“I always thought the worst of it was that it caused the growth on the boats to get unmanageable.  I never thought it was life threatening.  But I think I do now," said Dowd. 

So he’s avoiding most areas plagued with algae, and his efforts to stay safe in the water go beyond the full wet suit.

“We always wear earplugs.  Bleach in the bath water.  Baths instead of showers.” 

Dowd said he was talking to a guy who said the only people who are putting fuel in their boats is to get away from here.

Martin Choiniere saw online that Bathtub Beach is a great place to snorkel.

“So I drove one and a half hours from Miami," said the visitor from Montreal.

But with both Bathtub Beach and Stuart Beach flying double red flags Wednesday, no swimming meant his expedition was sunk.

“I’m very disappointed.  But if it’s really a safety problem I'm happy they told me not to go in the water if it’s real," said Choiniere.

Over at Jensen Beach Bowl, they’ve had an influx of young bowlers who’ve been unable to get in the water.

“Tuesday we had the environmental center which is just a mile away from us.  They came in and requested a special day and we said we’ve got room for you," said Jes Sprague of Jensen Beach Bowl.

On Wednesday, Congressman Patrick Murphy and a representative from the Army Corps of Engineers went to Central Marine in Rio to see the algae for themselves.

“They saw and they smelled.  They understand and they are going back to the drawing table and figure out what they can do.  They can’t solve it but they’re trying to reprieve us from what we’re experiencing now.  They can solve it in the future but not today," said Mary Radabuagh with Central Marine.