Early in my studies of the impairment of the St Lucie River, I came across a book entitled: RIVER OF INTERESTS with its introduction by Jacksonville ACOE Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr. In 2011, the book had just been republished, the work of Godfrey and Catton Historians. “River of Interests: Water Management in South Florida and the Everglades, 1948-2010,” is a history of the construction of the Central & South Florida Project and its unintended negative impacts on the environment, and the evolution of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). (http://188.8.131.52/docs/river_interest/031512_river_interest_2012_complete.pdf)
This incredibly well written, non-biased book became the basis of my river journey, a journey I am still on. The irony that the best book I ever read on the destruction of the St Lucie River and Everglades was commissioned by the ACOE is a metaphor for all of us. Through our connection to our past, we have all destroyed our environment, and together we must craft its rebirth.
Over the years I have collected signatures in my River of Interests book. Signatures of many I’ve met along the way, kind of like a yearbook from middle school but one that’s carried over time. When I was invited to the Change of Command for 2018, I decided to add retiring Col.Kirk’s signature to my book and welcome the newest colonel, Andrew Kelly.
In my opinion, this ever three years “changing of the guard” is a double-edged sword. I was told years ago that this keeps fresh eyes on problems. Hmmmm? I begged to differ, noting the constant change makes it difficult to develop relationships and the advocacy community if forever catching new colonels up to speed. In any case, this is the way it works so I decided to go.
After Ed dropped me off in Jacksonville, I got up early and was concerned that somehow I had gotten the time wrong, so I called the ACOE number on the invitation to verify. When I asked if the event stared at 10:30 am or pm since the invitation did not specify, the woman on the phone laughed.” Yes mam, it is 10:30 am; we would not be meeting at 10:30 at night!”
I too laughed, and replied: “Just checking.” I was obviously nervous.
Once I got to the performing arts center there was a flood of people even though I was thirty minutes early. I made it through security and into the dark, cool theatre. I pushed my way to the front rows asking a distinguished older gentleman if the seat next to him was free. ” You will have to ask him,” he calmly replied, pointing to my right. I cleared my throat, really hoping for this seat so I did not come all this was to sit in the back. “Hello, is this seat free please?”
“Yes.” I replied, very surprised this person knew my name.
“It’s Andrew Geller, from the Army Corp Periodic Scientist Calls.”
“Andrew” I shouted, “it’s awesome to meet you face to face after seven years!”
So fate would have it, that I met by chance those who are very familiar with our St Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee problems, the leaders, old and new, from the bi-weekly ACOE periodic scientists call! This in itself made the entire trip worth it.
The lights dimmed and the Change of Command began. As the band played, the national anthem was sung, and the colors were exchanged from Col. Kirk to Col Kelly. I realized I was taking part in something very old and symbolic and found myself getting choked up. I thought about all those who have served our country in places like Afghanistan where Col. Kelly is coming from. Everglades restoration is a different kind war, but a war indeed. Welcome Colonel Kelly to our next chapter of River of Interests. May it be one of environmental honor.
About the Periodic Scientist Call, JTL:https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/2014/03/06/the-acoes-periodic-scientists-call-and-the-indian-river-lagoon/