The Congressman & The Captain
“I am a Fort Myers native,” said Captain Daniel Andrews. “This is where I call home and will always call home, but I see severe declines in our habitat since I was a kid, with muddy dirty bottoms where oyster beds used to be. The foundations of our estuaries are dying because of Lake Okeechobee discharges, and I make sure people are aware that when we have a discharge, it causes a long-term decline to the estuary and is not something that goes away in days when the water clears. Poisoned seagrass takes years and years to regrow; it is a pretty vicious cycle.”
Andrews, cofounder of “Captains For Clean Water,” joined Congressman Francis Rooney (D19) at the demonstrator-free “Weighing In On Water” public forum before roughly 65 people at Fish Tale Marina on Saturday afternoon, March 4. The Congressman and The Captain provided the latest updates on area water quality and quantity, followed by questions & answers.
“There are $9 billion in authorized South Florida water projects, but $7 billion are unfunded and incomplete,” explained the Congressman, “plus another billion for the Herbert Hoover Dike. So far the State advanced $2 billion and the Federal government $1 billion, so we have a lot of catching up to do. I took this mission upon myself, to go to all the big wigs to ultimately get water into marshes for cleanup. I sent a letter to President Donald Trump to remind him when he campaigned here he promised to clean the Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee watershed that includes 16 counties, 164 cities, 55% of the State real estate holdings and $2 trillion in economic power. The entire Florida delegation, even Democrats, signed the letter, and that’s never happened before. We need that consensus because that makes it a Florida issue, regardless of ideology. I am bringing these big wigs down here now, so they can see first-hand our situation, and that is where we are.”
Captain Andrews agreed. “Once we return Lake Okeechobee; the Caloosahatchee, Kissimmee, and St. Lucie Rivers, and the Florida Bay to their original state, the better all these estuaries will be,” he said. “Our Number One priority is to get the State to purchase land for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir to reduce discharges by up to 50%, bring water to the Florida Bay and safeguard drinking water for 8 million Floridians.”
A Counter-Intelligence Operation
The Congressman stated that “we have a whole series of on-going projects, but they are mostly aligned in the same direction, and we have all these good people helping, and you never know where help will come from, as we live in amazing communities. I keep a list of everyone I meet in Washington with a vacation home or friends and family in Southwest Florida and it is amazing; we need to run this almost like a counter-intelligence operation of who do you know that we need to know; we are a big community and we need to keep expanding our touch, as politics is just pushing the ball down the road! I work to make the Florida delegation into a ferocious team, to get our share of the money to restore our watershed.”
He stresses “a project to keep an eye on is potential work on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee; it is a different priority and out of the mainline of our focus, but if they update it enough to store another foot of water, that will reduce discharges to the Caloosahatchee; another foot is a huge amount of acre-feet across the entire surface of Lake Okeechobee.”
Captain Andrews said he believes that the state should be able to execute an agreement with the US Sugar Corporation for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, through State Senate Bill 10.
“I don’t think US Sugar really likes me, in all honesty, but we should try as politely and reasonably as we can to negotiate a willing-seller contract, as in 2010 they wanted to sell the land as a crucial part to save the Everglades and we still have an option to buy it. We should be able to work something out and I am hopeful we can get something accomplished, but I am just a fishing guy and not a politician.”
A Totally-New Experience
“It just kicked for me last year,” Andrews explained of his water advocacy. “I was always concerned about the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, but never really understood how the whole system works, so I decided to drive to Tallahassee to meet with lawmakers. I had never before met with my representatives or even sent an email before, so this was a totally new experience. I found it was incredibly effective for a real person to go there and not yell or scream but just tell your story of how it affects you. There is a lobbyist behind every door looking for two minutes of their time, but representatives never hear from a fishing guy who is losing revenue. On the way back, we decided this is something we can do to make a difference, and we formed ‘Captains For Clean Water.’”
“Hearing from real people versus from lobbyists is critical,” emphasized Congressman Rooney!
When asked how the audience can make an immediate difference, Captain Andrews said his organization is promoting a trip to Tallahassee for meetings with legislators, but it is expensive for small-time fishing guides to lose a day’s worth of income to support the cause. “We have a campaign on our website to get those voices there, the people who are on the water every day, but we need money to pay for buses, hotel rooms, food and whatever else it takes to get a fishing guide up there for the day. The more time we can spend on the ground, sharing a lot more of our stories, the more effective we are.”