February 21, 2017
Martin County commissioners propose 16-county Lake Okeechobee summit
By Tyler Treadway
STUART — Martin County commissioners want everybody to know everything about a proposal to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to curtail discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to set up a multi-county summit to gather information about and discuss Senate President Joe Negron's proposal to buy up to 60,000 acres south of Lake O for the reservoir.
The time, date and place for the event will be set by the county administration. Commission Chairman Doug Smith suggested the event could be a special meeting of the 16-County Coalition made up of commissioners from the counties of the South Florida Water Management District.
"I envision it as possibly the members of the coalition, as well as anyone interested in coming, hearing from scientists on both sides, other experts on both sides and advocates on both sides," said Commission Vice Chairman Ed Ciampi, who made the resolution. "It will be an educational meeting, and education cannot hurt us."
Commissioner Sarah Heard voted against the summit "because of the way it would be configured. Fourteen of the 16 counties in the coalition are against it (Negron's plan). Why should we put ourselves in a position to be outnumbered. ... I'm a Martin County commissioner representing Martin County residents, not residents of Hendry and Palm Beach counties."
The commission's action does not reverse its decision a week ago to support Negron's plan, said county spokeswoman Gabriella Ferraro.
A news release by Glades Lives Matter, which opposes Negron's plan, "is very misleading," Ferraro said. It lauds the commission for "overriding" its previous vote, which it did not do, Ferraro said.
Priscilla Taylor, a former Palm Beach County commissioner, and Janet Taylor, a former Hendry County commissioner and head of Glades Lives Matter, spoke to the commission in opposition to Negron's proposal at Tuesday's meeting.
The group claims the reservoir would have little effect on discharges and cause economic hardship on the communities south of the lake by taking fertile farmland out of production.
"I value their opinions," Ciampi said after the meeting. "We need regional answers, not just about water issues but about all issues. I don't see any harm in a group of folks getting together and hearing all sides of the issue."
Asked whether the summit could lead to the commission reversing its support for the Negron plan, Ciampi said, "I won't know that until we have the meeting. But I'm not going in saying I'll never change my mind. If everyone's mind is made up, we wouldn't need to meet."
Negron, a Stuart Republican, has proposed the state and the federal government equally share the $2.4 billion cost to buy up to 60,000 acres south of Lake O and build a 120 billion-gallon reservoir.
Ciampi said he doubted the summit could be scheduled before the legislative session begins March 7.