Stuart, Fla. - U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) today reiterated his support for Balanced Alternative CC as the next Lake Okeechobee management plan, but expressed grave concerns in a letter to Colonel Andrew Kelly, the Jacksonville District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that the “optimization” process currently underway is prioritizing the sugar industry over efforts to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee.
“The sugar industry is getting a sweet deal from the Army Corps while leaving communities on Florida’s east and west coasts at severe risk of toxic discharges. There’s a very real chance that this process is becoming the ‘bait and switch’ that we have been sounding the alarm about for weeks,” Rep. Mast said. “We cannot allow that to happen, especially because providing a guaranteed level of performance for the sugar industry is making it harder for the Army Corps to provide the relief needed for the Caloosahatchee. The communities on the east and west coasts must work together to ensure that any changes made to Alternative CC will improve public health, the economy and the environment, not put a finger on the scale in favor of the sugar industry.”
Following a three-year long development process resulting from legislation passed by Rep. Mast in 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have selected Balanced Alternative CC as the foundation for the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), which will dictate operations on Lake Okeechobee for approximately the next decade. The Army Corps is now in the process of “optimizing” the plan until mid-October.
In the weeks since the preliminary announcement of Alternative CC as the preferred plan, east coast communities and Rep. Mast requested, but were denied, a guarantee that the final plan would not be any worse for the St. Lucie than the current version of Alternative CC. Instead, this guarantee was provided to the sugar farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). Yesterday, the Army Corps announced that the final plan would “stay as good or better than Alternative CC water supply.”
The sugar industry already receives near perfect performance under the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule. A 2019 University of Florida Water Institute Report noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service had failed to find any evidence of water shortages lowering crop yields in South Florida since the 1980s.
Yet, under the current iteration of Alternative CC, water supply performance for the EAA improves even more under every metric used by the Army Corps to evaluate the impacts. At the same time, Florida’s east and west coasts have been inundated with toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee to provide this near perfect level of water supply for the EAA.
Members of the public can express their opinions by emailing LakeOComments@usace.army.mil.
Read the full text of the letter here.