When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!
This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all?
So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.
St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely. These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.”
I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.
I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.
Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.
Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.
I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!
Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…
~The location of my childhood backyard.
After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.
~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!
I was alone in my childhood backyard…
I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.
Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?
I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.
Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:
When I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s in Stuart, summer vacation meant carefree swimming at the Stuart Causeway, the beach, and the Sunrise Inn. This was such an anticipated time of year that my parents would splurge and buy us new bathing suits from TG&Y.
Here I am pictured with my little sister, Jenny, outside our family home on Edgewood Drive. We were proudly displaying our matching new bathing suits!
Today, things are different. It is important for parents to check the water first. Is it safe? Has an algae bloom been reported? Is the Army Corp dumping Lake Okeechobee?
Today, I share two websites: Martin County, and the Martin County Dept. of Health. Both have been updated to reflect today, and though it’s not all “good news” with this much open government, I am confident things are on their way to getting better.
Robert Lord is President and C.E.O. of Martin Health Systems, formally known as Martin Memorial Hospital. “MHS” as it is known for short, is the long time top-employer for Martin County, and a respected and expanding health system. It has been located in Martin County for 75 years. (https://www.martinhealth.org) The origianl institution sits along the shores of the St Lucie River, near downtown Stuart and has grown into both south Stuart and St Lucie County. It is a literal “lifeblood” of our communtiy.
I have known and admired the Lord family since my childhood. Bobby Lord, Robert Lord’s father was a local celebrity in Stuart’s early days as he is a County & Western legend. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_Lord )I attended both elementary and middle school, and graduated from Martin County High School in 1982 with Robert’s younger brother, Cabot.
I cannot express how much it meant to me last Thursday to see “Robby” Lord, accomplished attorney, now President and C.E.O. of Martin Health Systems, in his position of leadership and influence, speak in support for Senate President Joe Negron and Senate Bill 10. A bill intended to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir to begin what must happen to save our river: “clean and send more water south.”
Having known the Lord family all these years, I have followed Rob’s career, especially as my sister, Jenny, is physician recruiter, and has served the hospital loyally for almost 20 years.
So, Bravo Rob Lord! You have created a “hometown game-change,” and as we all know, it is not easy to speak up. There are tremendous pressures to conform and accept things as they are. Over the past few years, outside powers have moved into our area influencing and blurring the lines.
I believe that Rob’s speaking out will clear the blurred lines and change the playing field forever. There is no mistaking it. Lake Okeechobee’s discharges are a health issue and must be stopped. Our state and federal government can ignore this no longer in spite of the influences of power.
Excerpt from speech:
“…Good morning, my name is Rob Lord. I am President and C.E.O of Martin Health System .. I care deeply about the impact of Lake Okeechobee discharges on the estuaries. I grew up on the Indian River Lagoon. My family moved here in 1969. I have fished these water with my father, my grandfather, and my brother and nephews and nieces. No one values this eco-system more than my family. We watched it change. As CEO of Martin Health System this has been a significant challenge for us. This past year blue-green algae came to our community. We needed to post this sign in our emergency room. We treated this very much like we needed to treat the Ebola situation….”
Dr. Steven Parr, Director of Emergency Medicine at Tradition Medical Center noted there are studies occurring now to determine whether the toxins trigger certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS also known as Lou Gherig’s disease.
The South Florida Water Management District did a great job “sending water south,” from May-September last year, so how are they doing so far this year comparatively? Recently I asked Dr Gary Goforth (http://garygoforth.net) if I could share his calculations:
Jacqui, As you know, my mantra has been to send the Lake water south – slowly but steadily – throughout the year.
This was echoed by Robert Fennema describing historical flows from the Lake to the Everglades in the same 2008 Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) workshop as the Chris McVoy piece you referenced recently: “Persistent outflow along the southern shore provided the head to maintain constant flow through the Everglades.”
All the best, Gary
Here are Dr Gary Goforth’s numbers:
2 years ago May-Sept: 32,032 acre feet to STAs Last year May-Sept: 187,125 acre feet to STAs This year May – Sept.: 95,600 acre feet to STA/FEB
He adds: “Jeff Kivett stated there was 60% probability of above average rainfall during the upcoming dry season and now is the time to keep the Lake low by sending it to the Everglades.”
Thank you Dr Goforth.
I have noticed, at recent meetings, speakers and scientists for the SFWMD note that rainfall and other issues have a lot to do with how much water they can send south. It would be wonderful if someone from the District could explain this in simple terms for the public and noting the goal for this year. Please feel free to participate in this blog.
I am big supporter of Senator Joe Negron. I believe that his intervention has “changed the game” for the Indian River Lagoon and put the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon squarely on the map in front of every politician and agency in the state. Now we have a chance to save it.
Yes, there have been champions for the lagoon before, but in my opinion, no one has ever done what Senator Negron has done.
I had been aware of Joe Negron for years but it was not until 2012 that I had any contact with him and that contact changed my life and improved my efforts for saving the Indian River Lagoon.
For half of 2011 and all of 2012 I was the mayor of the Town of Sewall’s Point and in 2011 the River Kidz had started on their own, authentically, in the Town. Two fifth grade girls, Evie Flagh, (my niece) and Naia Mader, held a lemonade stand in Indianlucie giving their proceeds to “those old gentlemen,” the River’s Coalition, who said they “needed youth in their organization.” Columnist, Eve Samples, had written about this and the children filled the calling. River Kidz ended up becoming a force with hundreds of kids joining and spreading to other counties. They even came up with their own mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved and raise awareness, because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”
As mayor, I made it my priority to help these kids as I have none of my own and am a former teacher. As a lifetime resident, I knew the dying river was a gigantic issue for the town and this all looked like a “good fit.”
Myself, my sister Jenny Flaugh, and good friend Nic Mader, started advocating along with these kids. Many other parents and children joined.
In the late summer of 2012, I thought of who could help the cause of the river and the kidz? Who was in a position to help. “Joe Negron,” I thought. He is our senator and he is the head of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the state. I was nervous. I really did not know him. He was friends with my husband’s business partner as they had both gone to the Hope Sound Bible School in their youth. I had seen him once at a birthday party. I was certain he had no idea who I was. After much angst, one day I called him. Somehow I got his phone number from my husband Ed I think. I was shaking.
“Hello, Senator Negron. This is Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch from the Town of Sewall’s Point. I am the mayor. May I speak to you for a minute please?
“Yes,” he replied.”
I was a wreck. Believe it or not, I am not good at “asking.”
“Sir, I am calling for your help. I am calling about the river….and the future…..about the kids….”
By the end of the short conversation, Joe Negron said he had an op-ed idea for awhile…maybe he would send it in to the paper? It had to do with the river. I encouraged him.
“Yes. Yes.” I said, “Please. We need your help. Thank you.”
The day I saw the op-ed, I said to myself, “Wow, he did it.”
In spite of one’s opinion on the situation, this article shook the foundations of the status quo. A state senator, chair of the Appropriations Committee, had said something, written something so taboo and it got the state and federal government’s attention and started a scrutinizing dialogue of the management of the lake and the deathly discharges to our estuaries.
Things ramped up. The ACOE starts releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in June of 2012. The River Kidz held a protest at the locks with their friends and parents. Joe Negron along with Martin County commissioner, Sarah Heard attended. It poured rain but they came. The Kidz feel important. The movement’s volume turned up. More kids and parents got involved. The river seemed to always be in the Stuart News.
Skip forward to the “Lost Summer” of 2013. The ACOE began dumping in May due to early rains. The river is a putrid, toxic mess. The kids can’t go in the water. The River Kidz rally at the locks again. Joe Negron attends, again….
And then Joe Negron, Senator Joe Negron, pulls a rarely used and ultimate political card from his pocket going where he, and we, had never gone before. He organizes the “Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.” It occurs August 22, 2013 at the Kane Center in Stuart. All eyes of the state are upon us. The media, state and national and local, take over. We are on the map like never before. It is an explosion. Even newspapers in Europe cover the story. (http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/irllob)
By the end of the following year’s legislative process in 2014, more than 200 million dollars goes towards the Indian River Lagoon and related projects supporting “some more” water going south. Everyone is Tallahassee know about the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. Not a fix but a start. A large start. Senator Negron has put his neck on the line as he is tapped “to be” Senate President. Some are angered by his complete focus on the IRL. He stands firm.
Between the Select Committee and the threat to cut ties with the Army Corp’s abusive relationship over us, change is in the air.
As an aside, I must admit, I have been criticized by some people, for my blatant support of Joe Negron. That is OK. I knew that could happen. Politics is emotional. People are allowed to have their opinions and I have mine.
At my recent Florida League of Cities meeting in Hollywood, all comments were positive. Elected officials were coming up to me from the panhandle, to Tallahassee, to Miami saying they had seen the commercial or heard of it and were impressed with our campaign for the Indian River Lagoon. “I never knew the estuaries got damaged by Lake Okeechobee…” They said.
Now the University of Florida is charged by the Select Committee with “a technical review of options to move water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades…” Will it fix the problem, I doubt it, but it will begin to and have some of the most outstanding minds in our state working on the problem now and in the future. In time, it could help solve the problem…
In conclusion, I was raised to repay my debts and to Senator Joe Negron I am indebted. And I am honored to be so. I will do everything I can to help him and keep him in office and to encourage him to help the Indian River Lagoon.
Recently, Eve Samples wrote an article about PACs and monies for Joe Negron’s campaign, which included campaign contribution from US Sugar. What do I have to say about that?
Politics is a hard and imperfect game and everyone is trying to influence powerful people however they can. Thankfully, I have a tool more powerful than money. I appeal to “conscience.” And Joe Negron is a man who listens to his. Of that, I am convinced.