After Being Gone Much of the Summer

After being away much of the summer, I was pleasantly surprised when I returned and saw all of the makeovers and new projects underway. On South Beach, the Square Grouper restaurant, with a beautiful view of the Fort Pierce Inlet, is almost complete. Across the street, the new Oculina Bank will open in mid-September.   And the city has installed a tastefully done new parking lot west of the Jetty Park that will accommodate businesses and beachgoers.

Across the bridge, along Indian River Drive, the Veterans Memorial Park is being redone with retention ponds, extensive landscaping ,a welcoming arch and attractive pavers. That project, with a drainage system that will divert runoff from the Indian River, will be completed in November. Nearby, the Backus Gallery is undergoing a significant expansion that is expected to be done by the season opening in mid-November.

And in Port St. Lucie, the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument has been erected and the dedication ceremony is scheduled for 3 pm September 25 at Veterans Park on SE Veterans Parkway. Sunrise Ford is proud to a sponsor of that project. With the controversy surrounding a Gold Star family in the presidential campaign, we are happy that in St. Lucie County, the community has shown an outpouring of support for this worthwhile memorial.

Of course, the big news this summer has been the algae bloom in the Indian River Lagoon and State Senator Joe Negron’s decision to finally do something about it. The Stuart Republican announced last month that he will push for the purchase of 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee so that the polluted water flows through the Everglades rather than being dumped in the Indian river Lagoon and Caloosahatchee estuary.

But Negron’s proposal may be too little too late. After all, Negron could have jumped on this bandwagon two years ago when an agreement with U.S. Sugar, owner of much of the land, had a set purchase price of $346.3 million for 46,000 acres. Negron along with other Republican legislators, let that deal, which was hammered out by former Gov. Charlie Crist, expire. So now taxpayers pay a total of $2.4 billion for an extra 14,000 acres? Certainly not the deal of the century. And Negron has to convince the federal government to pick up half of the tab. The plan calls for the state to pay its half using Amendment 1 money, which is earmarked for environmental and conservation projects. The feds will pay the rest.

But this is an election year and Negron had to make some type of move while beaches were being closed and riverfront businesses were suffering. Despite the strong name recognition, Negron’s wife, Rebecca, lost in the Republican District 18 congressional primary for the seat that was vacated by Democrat Patrick Murphy. Negron must recognize that not only his wife’s political future, but his own, now depends on doing something about the lagoon.

Unfortunately, Negron is already getting some pushback from his Republican cohorts in the Legislature who do not want most of the Amendment 1 money to be used on Everglades ‘restoration. Even Gov. Rick Scott has been low key on the project. After all, Scott and his administration preferred to use the Amendment 1 money for vehicle purchases and other items, totally unrelated to what voters intended.

Negron is not going to find an ally with U.S. Senator Mark Rubio, either. The former presidential candidate, who received a thumping in his own state from Donald Trump during the primary, says he won’t back Negron’s proposal. He says we should wait until all other Lake Okeechobee projects—which by all accounts amount to a band aid fix—are completed. I know Rubio is a first term senator—and he was absent from DC during much of his campaign—but he should know that getting a $2.4 billion project funded, permitted and implemented will take years, if not decades to be complete.

It’s not a stretch to believe that Rubio’s real motive for the delays may be to appease Big Sugar, which has contributed significantly to his campaigns. The longer the wait, the higher the price for Big Sugar’s land as can be seen by the latest $2.4 billion price tag.

Rubio’s challenger, Patrick Murphy, has been a big advocate of fixing the river, but the race is tight and at this writing Murphy is considered the underdog. If the Treasure Coast, which leans Republican, votes overwhelmingly for Murphy, it could help put him over the top. As a moderate Congressman for this area the past four years, Murphy certainly has appealed to environmentalists with his pro-active stand on Everglades’ restoration.

So the dog days of summer have been anything but quiet. Some of the local campaigns have been pretty heated—and candidates’ signs have littered the Treasure Coast. But it will be all over in a few months. The rants in the Letters to the Editor will tone down, the signs, hopefully, will be removed, the robo calls will end and our mailboxes will no longer be jammed with candidates’ brochures. Perhaps then we can all take a deep breath and enjoy the sunset while having a drink at the new Square Grouper.

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