SWFL Clean Water Movement to incorporate to non-profit
The SWFL Clean Water Movement began as one man on a bridge.
Now, the environmental activist group is growing from its grassroots beginning to form a nonprofit organization aimed at educating others about water quality and Fort Myers Beach.
The group is incorporating as a 501(c)4 social welfare nonprofit, which allows it to engage in protests and lobbyist events that relate to its mission.
It's important for us to be a formal organization," said Linda Ryckman, who will sit on the board as treasurer. She's lived in Fort Myers Beach for two years.
Having a mechanism to raise money via incorporation will give the group the financial backing it needs to advocate for clean water at a higher level, she said.
"It's affecting tourism, that's the most important topic right now," said Ber Stevenson, a 10-year beach resident who serves as a consultant for the group and will likely sit on the board.
Fundraising efforts will help founder John Heim on his "Truth Tour," an educational program he's begun delivering to both local and out-of-county organizations about the effect of the Lake Okeechobee discharges into the river systems.
"We're trying to fun a movement to fight against a system of this magnitude, corporations," Heim said. "We have to have financial backing to do so."
The truth tour began as the group reaching out to other environmental organizations, and spread to local and state civic groups.
Heim traveled to Valrico, Fla., to speak with the Hillsborough County Democratic Women's Club; he was scheduled to speak before the Cape Coral Friends of the Wildlife on Tuesday; and has made plans to go to Brevard County later in the month to make a presentation to third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students about environmental issues and how they can help protect their waterways.
Heim has been sitting in on environmental classes at Florida Gulf Coast University; Stevenson helps research the program's information in part by attending South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and Army Corps of Engineers meetings.
One of the group's main focuses now is to get people to sign the Now or Neverglades Declaration, a movement to get the state to fund a project that would redirect Lake O discharges south into the Everglades.
"It's not just brown murky water," Ryckman said. "It's that they've detoured the historic flow down to the Everglades. Sending the clean water south would help our east and west coast problems and ensure the Everglades remain healthy."
Stevenson said the group believes this is the best solution to alleviate the polluted waters in the quickest way.
"We want to keep the pressure on SFWMD and the Corps, because they are controlling the water flows," he said.
The headline of an article printed on page 8 of the Sept. 14, 2016, issue of the Fort Myers Beach Observer incorrectly stated that the SWFL Clean Water Movement had already incorporated into a 501(c)4. The article written was about the activism group working to become a nonprofit. The organization has not yet incorporated into a 501(c)4 nonprofit.
*A portion of this story quoting Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker during his talk at the Sept. 8 Chamber luncheon has been removed due to a quote used in error. Kiker did not speak against the SWFL Clean Water Movement during the luncheon.