Senator Marco Rubio visits Central Marine in Stuart.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has now seen the blue-green algae in the Martin County first hand. He did not get a warm welcome from some. Protesters chanted, “Buy the land. Send the water south.” They also carried signs decrying the state of the St. Lucie River. What they want is the purchase of land to the south of Lake Okeechobee so water can be discharged there, believing it would put a stop to the potentially toxic algae. Mercedes Pardo wears a white mask over her nose and mouth. A chain link fence topped with two strands of barbed wire keeps her from getting anywhere close to the senator when he visits West Marine, a private business. “We tried to get our voices heard,” she said. “We’re not able to get in where we want to be close, but that’s why we’re all here together standing strong and being as loud as we can vocally. At least somebody or something will get across to them. That’s our main reason for being out here.” While the protesters braved the Florida heat and the smell that came from the proximity to the algae, they had one major request. They shout, “Buy the Land. Send it south.” That’s a plea to buy sugar land to the south of Lake Okeechobee so releases can be sent that way to be cleansed. There was an agreement in the works when former Governor Charlie Crist left office in 2011. It fell through, but reviving that plan is not something Senator Marco Rubio supports. “I get conflicting reports,” He says. “I have an equal number of scientists that say we’re not against the southern land buy but it’s the northern land that we really need. That’s where a lot of the water and the nutrients are coming in. Ninety percent of the water doesn’t come from the south, it comes from the north.” Senator Rubio says he understands why people are mad after seeing the algae first hand. There are some steps he would like to see taken. “Well, a number of things that can happen immediately,” he says. “Number one is to convince the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) perhaps even to stop the flow for a short period of time to allow water through here to kind of flush itself out.” “Second,” he continued. “Is getting an emergency declaration from the president so we can have some more assistance available to local business owners and the local community.” “Third is to get the CDC or an appropriate heath care agency at the federal level to come down and do an assessment of the long term health risks posed by the algae bloom.” “The fourth thing is we want to continue to move forward to get that water bill passed so the central everglades planning project can move forward.” The emergency declaration from the president Rubio mentioned would need to be requested by Governor Scott, Rubio says it’s his understanding the governor is planning to do that. That belief was echoed by State Senator Joe Negron. “Well, a lot of businesses have had a terrible impact,” he said. “To me, it’s similar to what happened with the Deep (Water) Horizon spill and I was serving in the senate then. A group of us went to northwest Florida right at that time to see the devastation first hand.” “I see a lot of similarities,” he continued. “The state was able to provide assistance to some of those businesses that had documented losses. So I think that’s something we’re going to pursue.” Despite the visit from Rubio and earlier from Senator Bill Nelson Michael Connor of the group bullsugar.org says he remains frustrated. “I’m not satisfied with the movement done by the government in the last few days,” he said. “Governor Scott made a declaration of emergency, but it does very little to stop the discharges. It ramps them down a few million gallons but it’s still not going to stop the discharges. This is a result of years and years of neglect.” People who work and live near the algae have complained of burning eyes and scratchy throats. Emergency declarations have been made by the Martin County Commission, the city of Stuart and the state.
Listen to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio's full address in Stuart.