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Army Corps of Engineers closer to selecting new water release schedule

Congressman Mast voices his support behind some possible plans
WPTV-LAKE-OKEECHOBEE.jpg
Posted at 5:42 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 18:51:23-04

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — The Army Corps of Engineers is getting closer to picking a new plan that will determine when and where water is released from Lake Okeechobee for years to come.

The Army Corps has five potential plans it has narrowed down from thousands, according to U.S Congressman Brian Mast.

Those five plans will still be tweaked and changed, according to the corps, but Mast’s office says the plans, named alternatives AA through EE, already have some benefitting the St. Lucie River, but not all.

“The part that makes me the most nervous is that one of those plans could actually make things worse,” Mast said. “Our number is easy. It’s a goose egg. It’s zero. We don’t want any [discharges], any time of year. We definitely don’t want it when it’s poison, but we don’t want it any time of year,” Mast told WPTV.

The pending guidelines that the Army Corps of Engineers will follow when a plan is selected is called LOSOM, or the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. It’s rare for the corps to change its operating standards.

“There’s nothing that guarantees we will get another chance to do this in 10 years, 20 years, or even 50 years. We don’t know when we’ll get another chance to stop discharges,” Mast said.

According to Mast’s staff, the potential plans are, for now, as follows:

AA: Would reduce discharges to the St. Lucie the most, at a 95% reduction.

BB: Would increase discharges to the St. Lucie by 25%.

CC: Would reduce discharges to the St. Lucie by about 75%

DD: Would reduce discharges by 15%.

EE: Mast’s staff members say there is not enough information on EE to evaluate it.

When it comes to how much water each option will potentially send south, Mast’s staff says Alternatives AA and CC send the most water south.

AA: Would send 135,000 acre feet per year south.

BB: Would send 92,000 acre feet per year south.

CC: Would send 162,000 acre feet per year south.

DD: Would send 90,000 acre feet per year south.

EE: Mast’s staff members say there is not enough information on EE to evaluate it.

“I would be irate if BB progressed further,” Mast said.

Mast wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, urging them to throw out Alternative BB as a possible option. In the letter addressed to Colonel Andrew Kelly, Mast says Alternative BB was written and submitted by two lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League.

He wrote:

“Under no circumstances should lobbyists for the sugar industry be empowered to write the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which determines when toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee are sent to the coastal estuaries… participation on the Project Delivery Team for LOSOM is limited to representatives of government agencies. The public is not allowed to participate except during limited public comment periods during the meetings. Nonetheless, two lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League, Tom MacVicar and Bill Baker, are participating as members of the PDT and have written one of the remaining plans that is still under consideration.”

In a statement to WPTV, an Army Corps spokesperson responded saying none of the models were written by anyone group, saying in part:

“We received Congressman Mast’s letter about two consultants who represent several of the lakeside community stakeholders, including the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners on the Project Delivery Team. The Corps does not appoint PDT members. We invite a very broad range of representatives from federal, state, local and tribal government organizations. Sometimes, a government organization will choose to designate a consultant to assist them in representing their stakeholder interests.”

The Army Corps also stressed these are not final plans but will still be modified to create the final balanced plans, one of which is scheduled to be selected in July.

Mast said he along with other stakeholders will be supporting plans AA or CC.

“They keep water out of the St. Lucie, they give the Caloosahatchee water then they need it, keeps it out of there when they don’t need it, gets the everglades water when they need it and actually keeps more water for agriculture as well and benefits everybody.”

Mast continues to urge residents to write to the Army Corps to provide input before a selection is made.

LOSOM will go into effect in 2022.

“And just let them know this simply, you can’t poison me, you can’t destroy my community. We want you to help everybody else out, but you can’t destroy us to do it,” Mast said.