STUART, Fla. - Fenced out and frustrated. Hundreds of Treasure Coast residents--signs in hand and voices raised--could only shout and watch from a distance as Governor Rick Scott rolled past them in a motorcade to look at the St. Lucie Lock. It is his first trip to the Treasure Coast aimed at learning more about the toxic green algae that is a result, in part, of the huge discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
I asked Governor Scott if he would spend time to listen to the voices of the people outside the fence. He said, "I've been governor for a little over two years. I've focused on water issues the entire time." But he never went out and shook hands or asked moms, business owners, or anyone else what was on their mind.
The Army Corp of Engineers showed Scott the lock gates--from which fouled lake water flows non-stop. Scott later told reporters, "The federal government has to stand up. We are paying our taxes. This is so unfair to Florida citizens. We pay our federal taxes. They need to show up and fund the projects they committed to fund."
The finger pointing is inevitable and environmentalists say red tape is slowing federal contributions to Everglades restoration. The aim is to eventually send more treated water from the lake into the Everglades (as nature designed it), rather than emptying it to the east and west.
Eric Eikenberg is CEO of the Everglades Foundation. He told me, "The governor has done a lot so far. The $880 million water quality plan was a step. That is leadership he demonstrated. But this is not just one issue. We are entering the next phase of restoration and Governor Scott needs to lead us on that."
Environmentalists and residents are demanding the leadership from Scott and some argue he could push harder with Republicans on Capitol Hill. He is pledging $40 million to speed the building of a reservoir to divert future water runoff. But that project is still years from completion and local leaders are hoping to find alternate ways to divert runoff before then.
The debate on how best to meet that goal never ends. In the middle of a growing economic and environmental crisis Scott --indeed every Florida political leader- is being judged on how they lead the charge.