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Rep. Brian Mast sends letter to Army Corps as Treasure Coast 'decimated' by Lake Okeechobee discharges

Mast seeks answers after $1.5 billion spent to repair Herbert Hoover Dike
Posted at 9:45 PM, Mar 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 23:11:06-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Harmful water releases from Lake Okeechobee have now been pouring into the St. Lucie Estuary for almost two weeks.

This is despite more than a billion dollars being used to strengthen the Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) to lessen the need to release water toward the Treasure Coast.

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., sent a letter Friday to the Army Corps of Engineers urging more transparency about the benefits of spending $1.5 billion to strengthen the dike.

Read Mast's full letter to the Army Corps below:

"The goal of the HHD repair project was to protect human life while reducing the risks of impact to the way of life, the economy, and the environment of our communities," Mast stated in the letter. "One benefit from the completed HHD repair project that is especially important to my Treasure Coast constituents is that it increased the capacity of Lake Okeechobee to hold water without the risk of dike failure, which in turn should reduce the need for damaging discharges."

While at a Rivers Coalition meeting last week, Mast asked that question directly to Army Corps of Engineers Col. James Booth.

He then sent Friday's letter when he wasn't happy with the answer he received.

"What are we looking at as the limited risk envelope towards the Herbert Hoover Dike?" Mast asked Booth at last week's meeting.

"I can't answer your specific question if you're looking at what does the new dike assessment say, and what's the elevation that's risk to critical failure," Booth said in response. "I don't have that answer today."

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At that same meeting, Booth gave reasons for his decision to release water from Lake Okeechobee to the east.

"There's a balancing act there, and the decision I had to make was to lean more towards flood risk management, but acknowledge what I heard from everyone today and certainly from the times out in the estuaries before is when I make that decision I am having a harmful impact to the environment," Booth said at last week's meeting.

It is a balancing act that Mast has long maintained hurts the Treasure Coast the most.

Just days after the releases began, people in Stuart said they were already seeing darker water and negative impacts.

Russell Singson is among the Treasure Coast residents who have seen the water quality deteriorate since the water discharges began.
Russell Singson is among the Treasure Coast residents who have seen the water quality deteriorate since the water discharges began.

Russell Singson, who works as a diver cleaning boats in Stuart, said he's seen it firsthand.

"The water was like chocolate milk, can't even see our finger in front of our face," Singson said.

For now, residents are left hoping for minimal damage and harm to marine life with another roughly four weeks of discharges ahead.

"I would just hope that the water gets cleaner and bluer, and we can see more. I mean this place is an amazing place," Singson said. "It's just the water is not really good right now."

Mast asked the Army Corps to respond to his letter by March 8.

"Our Treasure Coast community is currently being decimated by discharges from Lake Okeechobee that you initiated, so time is of the essence," Mast's letter to Booth said.