Many of my fellow business owners often gripe about the taxes they pay, the federal and state regulations they must follow and how government should just get out of their way.
I take a different approach. I don’t mind paying taxes. Among other things, the money is needed for roads, bridges, fire and police protection, Medicare, Social Security and a safer net for the poor. I want to make sure the drinking water I am drinking, the food I eat and the drugs I must take are safe. And I know a well educated population is needed for a democracy to survive. So for the past two decades as the owner of Sunrise Ford, I have dutifully signed substantial checks to the IRS, State of Florida, St. Lucie County and the City of Fort Pierce. But this year I am fed up with the Feds, the state and the South Florida Water Management District. They cannot come up with a game plan – and successfully implement it – To protect the Indian River Lagoon and the Caloosahatchee estuary.
For years, billions and billions of gallons of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee have been flowing into the two estuaries, ruining our waterways, while the politicians and bureaucrats keep making excuses on why nothing can be done.
Not my jurisdiction, says Florida Gov. Rick Scott. We don’t have the money, say the Republican members of Congress. Worse yet, the state this year approved a 30 year lease to Big Sugar to continue to farm the land that should be used to restore the Everglades, which would naturally filter the water from Lake Okeechobee. And big Sugar, which has enjoyed the perfectly drained land and federal price support for decades, says the plan to restore the Everglades will never work.
Finally, this week the South Florida Water Management may be able to take the first step, albeit a small one, to begin cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon. The board voted to support the Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to divert 65 billion gallons of polluted lake Okeechobee water from St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to property south of the lake.
But there is a hitch but it’s hard for me to fathom. If the water management board supports the proposal on Thursday, it’s still must go through public reviews, final report from the Corps, another review from state and federal agencies and then sent to Congress for the consideration. The reviews, reports and other bureaucratic red tape can take as much as 255 days. If the proposal is not sent to Congress by the end of the year, it will be put on hold for seven more years.
Why this is coming up in the 11th hour is beyond me. If this proposal is not put on a fast track, embattled estuary is doomed to another seven years of severe pollution, causing the seagrasses to continue to disappear, fish and wildlife to die at alarming rates, and the health advisories forbidding contact with the water to be a permanent fixture on the Treasure Coast. The 65 billion gallons that will be diverted are just a small percentage of the 469 billion gallons that are sent to the estuaries, but this is a start.
These horrific conditions are nothing new so there is no excuse for the foot dragging. Gov. Scott, Congressman Patrick Murphy, and State Representative Larry Lee should join State Sen. Joe Negron in trying to untangle the current bureaucratic mess and not only get this current proposal implemented, but the funding for a long-term solution on the books.
Part of Sunrise Ford’s success is its location in South Florida with its unique Lagoon that attracts tourists and new residents every year. There is no disputing the Indian River fuels economic growth for a myriad of businesses, which all pay taxes. Unlike some of my Tea Party friends, who would just as soon do away with most taxes in much of the government, I know government action is needed to clean up the mess in the Indian River. Since I took over Sunrise Ford in 1994, the company has paid millions in federal taxes, generates about $130,000 a month in state taxes and sent at least $20,000 to the South Florida Water Management District. I will gladly continue to pay these taxes — But all I want now is the government agencies who have received these large sums to do what is right for the Indian River and do it right now.