State grants to help with algae blooms
TALLAHASSEE — A $3 million grant program for local governments to clean toxic algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries has been started by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office Monday announced the grant program, which follows his July 9 executive order declaring a state of emergency for Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties because of algae outbreaks. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said the money should help local communities “address immediate impacts,” as efforts move forward on longer-term projects, including construction of an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir and restoration of the Herbert Hoover Dike. The grant money is intended to target cleanup in “significantly impacted” public areas, such as marinas and boat ramps.
The outbreaks of toxic algae stem from polluted water being discharged from Lake Okeechobee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The releases maintain the water level in the lake to try to reduce the chance of a major breach of the dike, which is basically a 30-foot-high earthen structure that surrounds the lake. Earlier this month, the corps said that $514.2 million is heading toward speeding up repairs to the dike. The toxic blooms have sparked a political firestorm that has involved local, state and federal officials.
Democrats have blamed Republican leaders in Tallahassee for failing to take action the past two decades to clean the waters. Scott, who is trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has blamed his Democratic opponent for not pushing Congress to act on water issues affecting South Florida.