Tag Archives: St Lucie Canal

Journey Back in Time to See the Creation of C-44, the Greatest Negative Impact to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Image created by Doc Snook, 2013
Image created of structure S-80 along C-44 canal. ACOE web cam and  Doc Snook, 2013.
Ca. 1920s, looking west one sees the straight C-44 canal then known as the St Lucie Canal, and its connection to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. (Aerial  Thurlow Archives)
Ca. 1920s, looking west one sees the straight C-44 canal then known as the St Lucie Canal, and its connection to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. (Aerial Thurlow Archives)
S-80, Connecting Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie Canal or C-44
Looking west towards Lake Okeechobee above the C-44 canal over S-80 structure, St Lucie Locks and Dam,   connecting Lake Okeechobee to the South Fork of the St Lucie River. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Ed Lippisch, 2013.)

Link to video: Where “did” the St Lucie Canal connect with the South Fork of the St Lucie River?
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYI34XZUNYs&feature=youtu.be)

I share a video today that I believe to be my most “insightful” blog post since I began writing in 2013. The video above by my brother, Todd, who is an expert in historic map overlays merged with images from today’s Google Earth, communicates and educates in a manner no one map or document could do independently.

The video’s journey shows exactly where the C-44 canal was connected to the South Fork of the St Lucie River.  An historic Hanson Grant map reveals the “Halpatiokee River, meaning “alligator river;” with a basis in multiple Indian languages. Because the St Lucie Inlet was not opened, the forks and river were “fresh,” thus alligators lived there. Then flying over a 1910 plat map of St Lucie Inlet Farms,  you will see the South Fork of the St Lucie River mapped out. As the image changes over “time” you will see the construction of the C-44 canal, and how it was built right through the middle of South Fork’s north-western prong. In fact, those prongs today on the northerly side, are “gone” as sections 32 and 33 show. Those lands today are agriculture fields. As the journey continues, in the developed areas of St Lucie Farms you will see a very large lake “disappear” near section  25. I find all of this fascinating and kind of depressing… My brother said it best: “Wealth created at the expense of the environment…” Maybe we could create more wealth today going in the opposite direction?

The canal was built by the Everglades Flood Control District and later the Army Corp of Engineers, at the request of the state of Florida and Stuart Chamber of Commerce head Capt. Stanley Kitching and other “leaders.” (From conversation with historian Sandra Thurlow).

According to the Department of Environmental Protection’s Eco-Summary from 2000, the C-44 canal was begun in 1916 and completed in 1924. The document states:

“Next to the permanent opening of the St Lucie Inlet which changed the St Lucie River from a freshwater river to a brackish estuary, the construction of the C-44 has had the greatest impact on the St Lucie Estuary….Records show people have been complaining since the 1950s and there are numerous problem associated with the C-44 Canal…

UThe article discusses the prevalence of fish lesions due to too much fresh water, sediment smothering benthic communities, seagrass destruction, and the continued heavy nutrient and pesticide loading from agriculture and development in light of a tremendously enlarged basin coupled with massive periodic releases from Lake Okeechobee.   (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/C-44%20Canal%20.pdf)

The DEP  Eco Summary also states:  The canal..“was originally designed to enter Manatee Pocket instead of the South Fork of the St Lucie River.

Hmmm?

IInteresting isn’t it… to ponder what would have been different if the canal had gone through the Manatee Pocket instead? Certainly the St Lucie River would have been spared but the Pocket, near shore reefs, and inlet surrounding perhaps full of even more contaminated silt and high impact nutrients. Best of all the canal would have never been built but that reality we cannot change…or can we?

Most important today is to know where we have come from so we can redirect where we are. Please take a look at the very short video, put your thinking cap on, and let’s get the state, federal and local governments  delivering on what they have documented as problematic for Florida’s waters since the 1970s. Only the people will change this problem, not the government.

Left side of map shows C-44 canal's abrupt diversion north the a branch of the South Fork of the SLR. Original plans had the canal continuing its easterly  direction to connect with the Manatee Pocket. (DEP Eco Summary/Google Maps 2015.)
Left side of map shows C-44 canal’s abrupt diversion north towards a branch of the South Fork of the SLR. Original plans had the canal continuing its easterly direction to connect with the Manatee Pocket. (DEP Eco Summary/Google Maps 2015.)
Another aerial, ca 1920s, looking at the connection of C-44 and South Fork. (Thurlow Archives.)
Another aerial, ca 1920s, looking at the area of connection of C-44 and South Fork. (Thurlow Archives.)

Video creator: Todd Thurlow, P.A. (http://thurlowpa.com)

ACOE, Army Corp o fEngineers, Lake Okeechobee: (http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/OkeechobeeWaterway(OWW).aspx)

Original Palm Beach County Map Included Today’s Martin County…Yikes! St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Atlas of Florida Growers, 1909- original map of  Palm Beach County. (History of Martin County, 2nd. Ed 1998.)
“Atlas of Florida Growers,” 1909- original map of Palm Beach County. (History of Martin County, 2nd. Ed 1998.)

Looking at this old 1909, original, Palm Beach County map, the book, “The History of Martin County” states:

“…extending from Stuart on the north line to a line three miles south of Pompano Beach was Palm Beach County.”

It continues: “The southerly ten miles was subtracted and included in the creation of Broward County in 1915, and in 1925, the northerly seventeen  miles was lost to Martin County.”

It is interesting to think that “we,” Martin County, were once a part of Palm Beach County that is so different from us today in terms of land development and water theory.

In 1909, the C-44, or St Lucie Canal, had not been connected to the South Fork of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. What a paradise it must have been! Oh the fishing and wildlife!

Original Palm Beach Map, 1909.
Original Palm Beach Map, 1909.

Nonetheless, no matter what “county” one was in, people were draining the land and altering the fishing and wildlife….that is what has led us to where we are today. “White”settlers lived along the New River Canal, the canal second from the west on this map, as early as 1830s. 185 years!

Knowing our history, allows us to change our future. Knowing we were once part of something many of us now separate ourselves from brings perspective….

An interesting document to peruse regarding this situation is by the South Florida Water Management District entitled “Canals in South Florida.”

As we fight for a better water future, the more we know, the further we will go! Take a look and enjoy.

(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xrepository/sfwmd_repository_pdf/att%201%20canal%20science%20inventory.pdf)

 

 

 

Lt. Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the Indian River Lagoon

14 year old Natalie and new Lt Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera
14 year old Natalie and new Lt Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera

Last week, I took my fourteen year old niece, Natalie, to a meeting with me, to meet  Florida’s brand new, only seven weeks old in the position of Lieutenant Governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami; he is the first hispanic ever to hold this office.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_López-Cantera); (http://www.flgov.com/meet-lieutenant-governor-carlos-lopez-cantera/)

The purpose of the meeting was to “educate” the new lieutenant  governor about issues concerning the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. I had Natalie for Spring Break and since she has  been a member of River Kidz (http://riverscoalition.org) since she was ten, I figured I’d put her to work.

I said, “Natalie, just be honest and polite. Shake his hand, look him in the eye, smile and then tell him how you and your family were affected by the releases from Lake Okeechobee and the other  canals last summer, the “Lost Summer.”

When it was our turn, Natalie went first. She did exactly what I had asked.  She shook his hand, looked him in the eye and smiled saying:” My name is Natalie and I live in North River Shores. Last summer, because of the releases from Lake Okeechobee, my family and I could not use the new wakeboard we got for Christmas, because the river was  off limits with toxic algae blooms.  Also we did not go fishing like we usually do. The water was gross…”

At this point, as there were others standing around listening and waiting to meet Mr Lopez-Cantez too,  I did my typical control-freak move and “nicely” butted in just to qualify a piece of information so my comrades couldn’t claim I was using Natalie for purposes of propaganda.

“Natalie, we should mention, that the other canals were releasing too; you know the C-23 and C-24; the C-23 is the one your sister did her Science Fair Project on…”

Natalie looked and me and the Lieutenant Governor looked at me. Natalie nodded her head, and Mr Lopez-Cantera honestly asked: “Don’t all the canals here connect to Lake Okeechobee?” Silence.

“I’m glad you asked, I  said. It’s all very confusing.” I drew a picture as Natalie explained that C-44 does connect to the lake, but C-23 and C-24 do not. She also explained that the C-23 and C-24 are very polluting canals, but it has been only when the heavy releases from Lake Okeechobee come, on top of the releases from our local canals, that the river goes completely toxic.

I told a story that is well known.  Prior to the releases from Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District had taken samples of  toxic algae, “microcystis aeruginosa,”  a type of cyanobacteria,  from Lake Okeechobee at Port Mayaca , and the Army Corp of Engineers knew this,  before they opened the gates at  S-308 and S-80 allowing the water to flow into the St Lucie Canal and St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Images: (https://www.google.com/search?q=toxic+algae+st+lucie+river&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=tmA5U6yLIpTzrAGY7YGwDw&ved=0CHAQsAQ&biw=1598&bih=803)

I relayed that Mark Perry speaks on this situation often, reiterating again, that the river became toxic not while our own, although they be disgusting  canals, were releasing, but only when the massive water from the Lake Okeechobee was allowed in…

The Lieutenant Governor looked surprised, “Who is Mary Perry? ” he asked. “Mark Perry is the executive director for Florida Oceanographic,” I replied. Mr. Lopez-Cantera wrote down Mark’s name.

Our fifteen minutes were up, I gave the Lieutenant Governor  a booklet of  aerial photos my husband and I took of the river during the summer of 2013; he did a double take when he saw the cover but it was time to go.

Nonetheless,  he did not rush us off, and as we were getting up to go, he told Natalie about being a big wake boarder himself in Miami in younger days. We took a photo for Natalie’s album and then Natalie and I were off to walk the dogs and bake cookies since it was too windy to go to the beach.

I commend the Lieutenant Governor for coming to Stuart and meeting with local stakeholders to learn about the Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. I’m sure he has people pulling at him from all directions, but he came here.

As distasteful as politics is, at the end of the day, change for our rivers will come through the steady work of building relationships. By knowing our politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, the  face to face experience makes it harder for them to forget us when the vote is before them.

I’m hoping when it comes time for a vote, or in the future when the possibility of sending the water south is real, Lieutenant Governor Lopez-Cantera, or what ever his position is at that time, will remember the nice kid named Natalie from Stuart, and her story about not being able to wakeboard in  the toxic St Lucie River during the lost summer of 2013.

 

 

 

 

The Almost Great “Port of Stuart,” along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon

1911 Seawall's Point Land Company map
Portion of 1911 Sewall’s Point Land Company map showing area off of Sewall’s Point and Stuart where the great “Port of Stuart” was being developed.

The headlines of the South Florida Developer on December 29th, 1925 bragged about a Stuart along the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon very different than the one we know today:

“Port of Stuart, Florida’s New Gateway. “

“The Opening of the St Lucie Inlet to the commerce of the world will bring to Stuart and all Martin County that belated recognition to which it is rightfully  entitled by virtue of its strategic geographic location.”

“W.B. Shearer, recognized international authority on ports and waterways, makes the positive statement that of all the East Coast’s four hundred miles of waterfront, the harbor at Stuart is the the only port with natural advantages suitable for a naval base…”

“St Lucie Ship Canal Locks- the first link in the chain of waterways that will eventually form a navigable canal from the Atlantic  to the Gulf of Mexico is the “St Lucie Ship Canal” now 95% complete. It’s completion will open up the fertile western portion of Marin County…”

As these headlines show, the “Port of Stuart” was not just a dream, in the early 1920s, it was a becoming reality.  Details of the port still exists in dusty federal, state and local documents. If it were not for the Great Depression of the late 1920s and the difficulty for the ACOE in dynamiting the Anastasia rock from the bottom of the St Lucie Inlet, it could have been a reality.

So how could this be? Today an idea like this would be heresy!

Well, Captain Henry Sewall, for which the peninsula of Sewall’s Point is named, was one of many responsible for this “heresy.”  Not only had he led locals  to  open the St Lucie Inlet by hand in 1892, he had served as county commissioner, and state representative. 

In 1910 Captain Sewall and his powerful business friends, including adventurer Hugh Willoughby, founded “Sewall’s Point Land Company,” as Captain Sewall had inherited the tip of Sewall’s Point and large portions of waterfront and other lands along Stuart through his family linage to the famous Miles-Hanson Grant.

According to Sandra Thurlow’s book: “Sewall’s Point, the History of a Peninsula on Florida’s Treasure Coast,” after the formation of Sewall’s Point Land Company, the men got right to work building the Sunrise Inn on Old St Lucie Boulvard, and miles of roads in today’s Golden Gate; (see map above), government, bonds were held by the county and a turning basin at the tip of Sewall’s Point was dredged; this fill created today’s Sandsprit Park.”

A turning basin at Sewall’s Point? You’ve got to be kidding.

They were not.

Even poetry was written for the dream, ironically by beloved environmentalist,  Ernie Lyon’s father: 

Just One Place for the Harbor
by Harry Lyons
1924

“Brave sailors in Atlantic storms, 
A harbor need for aid.
 They skirt the coast of Florida,
Lest commerce be delayed.
When hurricanes sweep o’er the deep,
And ships grave perils face,
‘Tis the duty of all mariners,
To seek an anchorage place.
You’ll find the place for a harbor here,
Where the old St. Lucie flows.
There is room for ships at Sewall’s Point,
Where the Indian River goes.
No where else is there such an inlet,
Down below or up above.
There is just one place for the harbor!
Stuart the town we love!
From Stuart to Fort Myers at last,
We’ll have a waterway,
When the canal is finished,
And they’re hastening the day.
Across Lake Okeechobee,
From the Gulf of Mexico,
Oil and phosphate, fruit and lumber,
Into Stuart soon will go.”

Sewall died in 1925 and the bottom fell out of the real estate market around 1926. Around the same time, two devastating hurricanes put the nail in coffin of the Stuart Port at the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

It is interesting to note that the St Lucie Canal, C-44, between Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie River was completed not only for transportation and trade, but for flood control of agriculture and people working south of the lake. The prosperity associated with the canal for the local people of Stuart never came and the canal ended up being a major factor in the destruction of their beloved waterways…

Well time goes on, new dreams come and go; new fortunes are made and lost. But for old times’ sake, one can stand at  Sandsprit Park, and look out to Sewall’s Point remembering  perhaps Stuart’s biggest dream, the lost dream, and for many, a dream well lost, the dream of the “Great Port of Stuart.”

*Thank you to my mother, Sandra Henderson Thurlow,  for sharing her historic articles to make this write up possible.

The Black Bobcats of the St Lucie Region and Indian River Lagoon

Melanistic bobcat caught in Martin County (Photo Busch Wildlife Center)
Captured melanistic bobcat from Martin County (Photo courtesy of Busch Wildlife Center, 2007) 

The Martin County Difference” is an expression that one often hears from locals that means exactly what it says, “things are different here…”

Not only are the different, they are exceptional. We have the beautiful St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, a four story height limit, a strong urban service boundary, great public schools,  a strong fertilizer ordinance, public beaches and black bobcats…

When I was a kid growing up in Stuart, one sometimes heard stories from the kids that lived in Indiantown or Palm City about “black panthers.” And someone who had seen them would swear on their mother’s grave this to be true. Supposedly these stories had been around for many, many years coming down from parents and grandparents.

More recently in 2008, my first year on the Sewall’s Point commission, the town had  at least  three “normally colored” bobcats and multiple kittens. The sightings were very exciting but scared some residents who had moved here  from up north so I started reading about bobcats in great detail. Eventually we had Dan Martinelli of the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center speak before the commission and things calmed down but my fascination with these beautiful creatures did not.

I talked about bobcats a lot during this time and in the course of a discussion, one of my husband’s physician friends who lived in Palm City, with great excitement told a story of  seeing a black bobcat in Palm City walk across his yard. That same year one of the Guatemalan landscape workers in the town, knowing I loved animals, struggled wide eyes to tell me about the black panther he had seen walking along a fence, close to Lake Okeechobee and the St Lucie Canal, that he had seen while fishing with his son.

According to my reading there have been more reports of melanistic bobcats in Martin County than anywhere else in the country, mostly near the area of the St Lucie Canal, Lake Okeechobee and Loxahatchee.

If you want to find these reports, google “melanistic bobcats martin.” These posts are not entirely scientific but they are documented. They say there have been sightings for the past 80 years.

Although I never seen a black bobcat, popular lore says the exist, I believe it, and it’s certainly better documented than Sasquatch who many of my high school friends claimed to see too.

What an incredible place to live! The “Martin County Difference!”

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According to the Florida Wildlife Commission black panthers  do not exist  but black bobcats do!

FLORIDA PANTHERS:(http://www.fws.gov/floridapanther/panther_faq.html) 

FLORIDA BOBCATS:(http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/bobcat/)