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Millions of Tax Dollars Spent to Block Lake Okeechobee Creek

PHOTO: 1996 picture of Earthjustice attorney David Guest standing in Fisheating Creek. Courtesy: Earthjustice
PHOTO: 1996 picture of Earthjustice attorney David Guest standing in Fisheating Creek. Courtesy: Earthjustice
October 3, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - About $3 million of Florida taxpayers' money will be spent to fill Fisheating Creek in Glades County, a major tributary of Lake Okeechobee.

The state is using sand for the job provided by Lykes Brothers, an agribusiness upstream on the creek. A lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection challenges the agency's approval of Lykes Brothers' request to have the channel blocked to navigation.

Rhonda Roff is a board member for Save Our Creeks, which is a plaintiff in the case.

"It is a slap in the face that the public is having to spend this amount of money, in the name of restoration, which is going to prevent people from using that very resource."

Lykes Brothers has been trying to block Fisheating Creek since 1989, when the company placed fallen cypress trees across the navigation channel and posted "no trespassing" signs. A jury later ruled the creek was navigable, and said Lykes could not prevent public access to the water. The state restored the channel in 2010 to reopen it for boaters and wildlife.

David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, points out that now, two years later, the state is using tax dollars to undo the restoration project and keep boaters out.

"It's obviously got Lykes' fingerprints all over it. The state builds roads across the marsh so that they can transport sand from Lykes Brothers' property to fill the channel and stop people from using it."

Environmental groups such as Save Our Creeks also question the impact that blocking the navigation channel would have on water quality and wildlife.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL