Business owners react to state of emergency

Posted at 11:47 PM, Feb 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-27 09:25:12-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- Treasure Coast business owners are calling it a small step in the right direction.

Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Martin, St. Lucie and Lee Counties Friday as a result of Lake Okeechobee releases impacting the St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River.

But, Driftwood Motel owner, Irene Gomes, says she wants to know how and if this will help her.

Her rooms at the Jensen Beach motel are booked for now, but she worries that might not last.

Her visitors are already talking about the water quality in some parts of the St. Lucie and Indian River.

“They’re asking questions, they’re worried. They’re concerned because this is the reason why people come to Florida. They come to Florida not to go golfing and shopping. They come for the waterways,” Gomes said.

Fresh water from Lake Okeechobee has been flooding the St. Lucie Estuary for more than three weeks.

Conditions are not toxic or proving to be killing marine life. But, Gomes believes it’s only a matter of time before the releases to start to kill business and the local economy.

“It’s an ongoing problem. It’s been going on for a long time and we’re fighting,” Gomes said.

Local county and city leaders have been urging Governor Scott to declare a state of emergency as a way to help business owners see some financial relief, and to provide more state funding for efforts to protect the environment.

In the Executive Order, some of the benefits are listed. They include allowing the Director of the Division of Emergency Management to execute response, recovery and mitigation plans to cope with the emergency.

That director will also be able to coordinate the allocation of resources from other states to help with the emergency. Additionally, the director can seek more assistance from federal agencies.

Gomes wants to know how she, specifically, can benefit.

“Our Governor so far has failed us. He’s calling a state of emergency, what are they going to do with that? What exactly are they going to do to fix the problem?”

“Everything they’ve done so far has been a lot of band-aids,” Gomes says, wanting the Governor to invest in long term fixes.

The Executive Order from the Governor placed much of the blame for the current discharges on the Obama Administration.

Scott stated the Federal Government has not given enough funding for maintaining the dike around Lake Okeechobee.

Doing so, he said, would have prevented the need to release a maximum amount of water in the first place.

The state of emergency expires in 60 days unless it is extended.

View the entire Executive Order here.