STUART, Fla. — Stuart city commissioners called it one of the most important things they might ever vote on.
In a unanimous vote Monday night, commissioners approved taking the next steps to sue the Army Corps of Engineers in order to prevent future potentially harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.
But they also decided to go after the federal government at a slower pace.
Commissioner Merritt Matheson pushed for the lawsuit, saying he wants to see more summers like the one in 2019, which did not have toxic algae blooms plaguing in the St. Lucie River.
Dozens of people packed city hall to support taking legal action, including veterinarian Cristina Maldonado.
“I don’t want to go through 2018 again. 2019 worked,” Maldonado said. “I’m super proud of you guys and all I can really wish for is that the county will follow and that other cities will follow.”
“We are in an emergency scenario now. The lake must be managed that way now during the dry season,” Matheson said.
The Army Corps of Engineers also has to balance the need for keeping enough water in the lake to sustain agricultural needs, water supply needs and recreational needs.
Stuart city leaders want the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the water level lower going into the rainy season like the Army Corps did in 2019, which helped reduce the need for releases to the St. Lucie Estuary.
County Administrator for Martin County Taryn Kryzda said county staff is not supporting Stuart’s potential lawsuit.
“For us, we believe it’s just a little premature. It’s not that we don’t want to support the city and their efforts, we absolutely do. But we’re not sure today that moving forward with a lawsuit would be in the best interest of the residents,” Kryzda said.
Commissioners voted to have a thoughtfully drafted lawsuit, which they will review before filing. They want to include input from other legal experts and scientists who are up to the challenge of determining the best way to take on the federal government.