Business hurt by Lake O releases meet with state

Posted at 5:22 PM, Mar 30, 2016

Martin County Emergency Management, the Business Development Board, and Chamber of Commerce invited state officials to Stuart Wednesday so they could meet local business owners face to face seeking economic relief from Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases.

The rash is clearing on Mike Bonis’ wrist… one of many he’s had this season. He says it’s due to contamination from Lake Okeechobee water releases into the Indian River Lagoon.

“I got to make a decision whether I’m going in the water and getting sick today," said Bonis.

Bonis’ business, A&M&P Bottom Cleaning, keeps him diving into the Indian River Lagoon.

“I clean all the intakes, the through holes, change props, everything underwater,” he says.

Bonis says foul water has boaters staying in, and his business is off 60 percent.

So, hoping for help, he and his wife joined a handful of other business owners at this workshop on the Indian River State College campus in Stuart.

There was talk of loans available, but also short time compensation programs for businesses that are hurting.

“It allows the worker to continue to work for the employer for a reduced number of hours," said Larry McIntyre with the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Captain Bruce Rhobak owns Billy Bones Bait and Tackle.  He says recent rains have extended water releases through what should have been his busiest time of year.

“We rely on our snowbirds.  Many of the snowbirds have left already so it’s kind of like the season that never happened," said Rhobak.

Rhobak says he and many others need to continue to push for ways to move water south of Lake Okeechobee as one solution to a multi-pronged problem.

“Think we needed more people from the state, more people that can help with the discharges.  That’s what we need more than anything," added Rhobak.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in February for Martin, St. Lucie and Lee Counties in an effort to get more federal money to fix the dike around the Lake which could provide one alternative to continued discharges.  

State officials said Wednesday while the declaration lasts 60 days unless its extended, at this point there's no indication when it will be ended.