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Beyond the pale: Enviro activist calls for “death of thousands” in Lake O discharge controversy

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

With much of the nation embroiled in the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s almost understandable that some things in Florida have escaped widespread notice.

For those of paying attention, however, they have no doubt been aware of the release of excess water from Lake Okeechobee, a result of historically high El Niño rainfall in South Florida.

Unsurprisingly, environmentalists have been vocal in opposition. But this time, the rhetoric may be getting out of hand.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ release, as it did in 2013, sparked concern from residents living near the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds, mostly because of the brown discharges laden with sediment from the recent rainfall.

Last week, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued orders giving the federal government permission to move more water through Shark River Slough in the Everglades, and not to the coast.

As for the latest Lake Okeechobee discharge, Southwest Floridians worry the water releases will pollute the Caloosahatchee River and Gulf waters, detrimental to both tourism and related businesses, reports Chad Gillis of the News-Press.

In a memo from Gov. Rick Scott, the Corps received the option of sending water south. Officials from the Corps responded that the water storage area Scott wanted to send the overflows to was already flooded.

“Moving water south out of the Water Conservation Areas will prevent the die-off of wildlife whose habitat is currently flooded due to the heavy rainfall and will also allow us to move more water from Lake Okeechobee south, relieving pressure from discharges to the Estuaries,” Scott wrote.

The governor added that he assessed the situation with stakeholders along the Tamiami Trail, as well as the Miccosukee Tribe, Everglades National Park, and the South Florida Water Management District.

“They are supportive of this action,” Scott said.

Not everyone agrees.

“The current system is not designed to be able to stop flows,” said Jim Beever, a former state biologist now with the Southwest Florida Planning Council.

“It was designed to do the very things it is doing and is governed by policies and procedures that cause these flows,” Beever told the News-Press. “Given the current water management system and infrastructure, it might be possible but it would be very difficult and would take risks that many would not want to take. But it is extremely improbable it would be done.”

Right on cue, the discharges drew fire from environmentalists, who also claim releases add to the pollution of local water supplies on the Treasure Coast and in Southwest Florida.

In this latest war of words, some in the green crowd choose a nuclear warhead — when only a rubber pellet is needed.

FloridaPolitics.com obtained one email exchange from the listservs from one of the state’s largest and most prominent environmental groups, where members have been buzzing about the Lake Okeechobee discharges.

In one email, an activist named Mike Elfenbein goes beyond the pale.

Elfenbein, in an especially nasty rant, wishes death via a disastrous Herbert Hoover Dike failure, resulting in the death of thousands of South Floridians. Such a catastrophe would “fix everything,” noting the human toll would be “inconceivable.”

But the benefits to the environment would be “immeasurable,” he concludes, drawing a line in the sand. “Question is … Which side are you on? Human or nature?”

Another user, Ted Guy Jr., doesn’t understand why he has to take a side, and wonders whether he can’t just be “for both” humans and Mother Nature.

Nevertheless, Guy (rationally) points out the exchange lacks “collegiality and courtesy,” the magic words to the “success for this list.”

Wishing misfortune on your adversary is one thing, and is de rigueur for what passes as discourse these days. But wishing death to innocent citizens on a massive scale is quite another.

The exchange demonstrates environmentalists’ version of Godwin’s law — where a comparison to Adolf Hitler and Nazi-ism invoked in a conversation signals the end of rational debate.

It is not a proud moment for Florida’s environmentalist movement.

Heated rhetoric from environmentalists will no doubt remain, at least as long as the Army Corps discharges Lake O water, but we must caution against losing sight of why it’s happening in the first place.

Some of the smartest people in the state have long warned about a Hurricane Katrina-level flood in South Florida. Without the Army Corps of Engineers at the helm, Lake Okeechobee could rise to hazardous levels, threatening to wash hundreds of thousands of people out to sea.

It may seem passe to say so, but wishing death on opponents is not the most efficient way of winning hearts and minds.

When forced to choose between living with humans or going down with Mother Nature, I may be selfish, but I’ll side with humans.

environmental email exchange

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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