provided to The Santiva Chronicle
“We have to ensure that restoration is not just looked at from an environmental lens… but economically, business-wise, it’s the only way we’re going to solve it,” The Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg told a roomful of business leaders at the Aug. 23 SanCap Chamber luncheon held at Rosarita’s Cantina on Sanibel Island. “We can have smart development with the protection of our environmental treasures like the Everglades.”
Eikenberg expressed his pleasure at being invited to speak at the first chamber luncheon gathering held back on Sanibel Island since Hurricane Ian in September 2022, and commended the business community for its mutual support.
“Because I will tell you, the progress that we’re making is because of the business community in Southwest Florida, in Southeast Florida, and all points between coming together to tell our elected officials in Washington and Tallahassee that the return on the investment, the economic drivers that make the Florida economy thrive and sustain is right here in this room,” he said. “This audience represents the diversity of what we call the ‘clean water economy.’”
Eikenberg commended the chamber, Captains for Clean Water, and SCCF (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation) for the roles they have played in communicating the impact of bad water and algae on the region’s livelihood.
“The business community standing up… that was a game changer, and the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce was leading the way on this back in 2016,” Eikenberg said. “Because you remember these discharges weren’t one off, [they’re still] not one off.”
He reported on the progress being made on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), thanks to business pressure: the completion of one reservoir on the east side of Lake Okeechobee, the near-completion of others to the west and south, and the hardening of dike walls around the lake, which already has lessened the need for discharges.
Eikenberg also reported on the costs needed to go forward and complete the Everglades restoration project, which he hopes to see finished in this decade. The pressure on state and federal representatives needs to continue for that to happen, he impressed upon chamber members.
“We can then pivot to the operations of these projects to make sure we are managing these projects – not just for special interest – but that we are managing it for fishing and boating and real estate and tourism,” he said. “So that all these economic drivers are on equal footing.”
He advised chamber members to take advantage of the election year and “the adage, don’t let a good crisis go to waste” when voicing their demands for funding to government leaders.
“There will be a moment when we will ask you to lend your voice to tell officials what’s important,” he said. “Having a chamber like this front and center will help us make a difference.”
“Water quality is at the top of the chamber’s list of priorities into perpetuity,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “We thank Eric for so effectively steering our efforts to influence state and federal budgets in favor of our water. We find respite, we find quality of life, we make our living on the water.”
He thanked Bank of the Islands for sponsoring the August luncheon. The chamber has scheduled the next business lunch meeting for Wednesday, Sep. 27, at the The Sanctuary Golf Club on Sanibel Island, featuring speakers Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza, County Manager Dave Harner, and Lee Department of Transportation Director Rob Price, who will present a causeway update. Sanibel Captiva Trust Company and Stevens Construction are sponsoring the luncheon.