Florida DEP offering grants for algae cleanup

With $3 million in grant money just made available for any necessary algae cleanups by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, officials in Glades and Hendry counties are looking into the possibility that they might be able to use some of that help.

The FDEP announced the new grant program on Monday, July 23. Eligible are the counties of Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie. That means any affected municipalities or other entities that operate public water access, whose officials want to seek a grant, must go through their county authorities. The program is provided under Gov. Rick Scott’s declaration of an emergency in those seven counties last month due to the algae blooms that this summer have fouled parts of Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river estuaries, their tributaries and other local waterways, including canals, but the opportunity expires with the governor’s emergency order on Sept. 7.

The cash is being made available, according to FDEP, for “containment, removal, cleanup, elimination, transportation and disposal” of algae that’s accumulated in places such as public and private marinas, boat ramps and other areas where the public accesses affected waterways.

In Hendry County, the Caloosahatchee River flows through its northeastern corner on its route through Lee County to the Gulf of Mexico. County Administrator Charles Chapman said Monday: “We just now received the application criteria for the grant. We’re going through the process of looking at our estuaries and seeing if there are any projects that would fit the criteria.”

He added that he hadn’t gotten any reports from the engineering office yet, “but I hope to have that information either later this week or at the beginning of next week.” But, Mr. Chapman explained, “There are different areas where … tributaries that hold more stagnant water than flowing water may be having some algae problems. So we won’t just take a quick look at it, and (county staff will) see if we can take advantage of this opportunity to do some environmental cleanup.”

In Glades County, where both the Caloosahatchee and Fisheating Creek flow across nearly its entire width, County Board Chairman John Ahern noted that they also just learned of the grant money. The county is between managers now so administrative assistant/911 coordinator Susan Whidden was gathering relevant information, he said, explaining that she “was going to talk with David Miller, the city manager (of Moore Haven), and see” if any areas on the river need cleaning up.

“There are some areas where there’s a little bit of a problem, but it’s not like it was,” said Mr. Ahern. “There’s still a little left in the river, but it’s not like it was several weeks ago when the river was green. Once they opened the locks and started flushing it, it cleaned up a lot.” In any case, the algae is not affecting anglers much, if at all. “From the people who’ve been on the lake, you know, the lake’s been fine. They’ve caught a lot of fish,” he related.

“The water’s up pretty high in Fisheating Creek. My sister and brother-in-law were up there and fished last week, but … they didn’t say anything about any algae.”

Asked whether they’ve seen any algae blooms or clumps at Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort in Clewiston, general manager Ramon Iglesias said: “We’ve had some small (patches) of algae in some stagnant water, but I have never seen any guacamole — I call it the guacamole they keep showing the B roll of on the coast. No, very little.”

Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management Department Director Deborah Drum said on Tuesday: “In this particular event this year, Palm Beach County has not experienced the widespread blooms as other counties have. We are continuing to do our assessment on a weekly basis, and this week we’re going out to the Glades region … to look at some reports we’ve received of some blooms in the L-10 structure area and in and around the lake …

“We all know that there was a massive bloom and continues to be a massive bloom in Lake Okeechobee proper that affects multiple counties,” Ms. Drum continued, “but we have not seen widespread blooms in our coastal areas. And like I said, we’re going to continue to assess if we have any accumulated areas in the western communities that might warrant looking into this program as a potential for removing algae or somehow mitigating for it.”

In Okeechobee County, Administrator Robbie Chartier told commissioners at their meeting July 26 that there’ve been no reports of algae blooms in the county that would necessitate any cleanup.

“I don’t see a reason to apply,” she said.

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