provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Emphasizing that the current, third iteration of the controversial Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) is still in flux, Col. Andrew Kelly, commander and district engineer of the Jacksonville district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, talked to members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce about the importance of algae blooms and the Caloosahatchee River as manual evolution goes forward.
He spoke to a gathering of 140 at the Aug. 11 luncheon business meeting held at Pink Shell Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach, in partnership with the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA).
“What you’ve seen so far isn’t really what it’s [LOSOM] going to look like in the end,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews, Captains for Clean Water, which co-sponsored the luncheon with Rapid Response Team LLC, in introducing Kelly. He called LOSOM the legacy of Kelly, who announced earlier that day his impending 2022 retirement while introducing Col. James Booth as his successor.
Andrews commended attending chamber leaders John Lai (Sanibel-Captiva), Jacki Liszak (Fort Myers Beach), and Colleen DePasquale (Greater Fort Myers) for their strong roles in encouraging advocacy about water quality issues, resulting in more than 9,000 letters landing on Col. Kelly’s desk.
Kelly admitted he welcomed and read all the letters. “We wanted this to be a process where everybody participates, where everything is openly discussed,” he said. “We ask for your input. We ask for your criticism. We’ve learned a ton from it. Our stakeholders teach us a lot.”
Whereas most water control manuals require 18 months for completion, the corps planned a timeframe from 2018 through 2022 for LOSOM. He walked luncheon attendees through the years to this point in layman terms, asserting that “Mother Nature is absolutely in charge. What the corps has to do is to seize opportunities that Mother Nature gives us to do good.”
Kelly promised that future iterations of LOSOM would strive to alleviate the problem of too much stress on the Caloosahatchee and to send more water south. In the end, the manual will provide overarching guidelines, instead of arbitrary constraints, he said. The goal has more flexibility to make decisions based on natural conditions, especially the presence of algae bloom and favorable algal conditions.
“How we’re going to get the most bang for our buck when we talk about algae is how we make the day-to-day decisions…,” he said. “We’ve got to operationalize that.”
Kelly assured the audience that the corps is paying attention to the needs of Southwest Florida. “It’s a personal thing that this team is working tremendously hard on…. Thanks to opportunities like this, the plan continues to get better.”
Comments from the audience thanked Kelly, especially for his intervention with the 2018 algae crisis that killed tons of marine life and very nearly tourism in the area.
Byron Donalds, U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th District, spoke briefly to also commend Kelly’s work and encourage optimism and continued advocacy among his constituents. “Repeat with me: This process is not over,” he insisted three times until responses strengthened.
“All in all, the meeting brought more hope than controversy to the forefront,” said Lai, Sanibel-Captiva chamber president and chief executive officer. “We thank the colonel’s team, FRLA, and our sponsors for such a productive meeting and for helping make possible the beautiful beach view – free of any negative algae impact — we were able to enjoy that afternoon.”
The next chamber business luncheon takes place on Sep. 8 at The Community House on Sanibel Island at 11:30 a.m. Sam Ankerson, the recently appointed executive director of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, will speak at the meeting. The chamber is seeking sponsors for that meeting. Contact communications and marketing manager Landen Drake at landen @sanibel-captiva.org or 239-472-8255; or director of operations Mitch Orr at email@example.com or 239-472-8759 for more information.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.