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Businesses air issues at water panel
October 10, 2018

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Nearly 20 business owners, chamber of commerce presidents and city council members from throughout Southwest Florida gathered at the Sanibel Marriott Resort on Oct. 2 to meet with Casey DeSantis, gubernatorial Republican candidate Ron DeSantis' wife, along with Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, to give a first hand account of how their businesses and communities are suffering from water quality issues.

"I'm so moved by everyone's willingness to come out and to plead their hearts about how this is impacting their lives, their families to see people come to tears when they talk about their workers and making sure that their workers and employees are OK, was moving," DeSantis said. "It's something that we need to fix. And Ron is committed, and has been committed, to finding a solution to get this done."

She stated to those who attended that her husband, if elected, will continue to have water quality be a top priority during his term.

DeSantis intently listed to what each person had to say about how the red tide or blue-green algae has taken a toll on their business or community, taking notes that she will share with the potential governor.

"I think what struck me the most is when you see people come to tears about this," she said. "I'm going to definitely talk to him about the passion that was in the room. Ron came out with his environmental proposal about a month ago. He's been down here multiple times, he's committed to it. He understands. He has a great working relationship with the White House. So if we want to expedite funds to get them down, to start getting some of these projects up and running, so we can start fixing this problem, he's going to do it. We're going to have a good conversation when we get home."

The tales told from local entities were not great ones, though, as DeSantis mentioned, the passion was certainly there.

Business owners have seen drastic drop offs in profit margins, bookings, reservations and staffing capabilities.

A big concern of theirs was what to tell patrons about the conditions and the potential health impacts, as they are not clear cut.

Another topic brought up was how loans are available at low interest rates, but skyrocket after six months - some even require the establishment to have costly flood insurance to be considered.

Businesses are having to dig into their own pockets to keep up with expenses and to pay their employees, who are also losing time and money.

"It's not about Republican or Democrat, it's about doing the right thing," DeSantis said, echoing a panel member's sentiments that he is not going to vote on party lines, but whoever is going to solve the water crisis.

"I'm encouraged we're continuing the conversation," Pendergrass said. "It's great to see that Ron DeSantis and his campaign has taken notice. We've obviously got their attention. This is a crisis to our area. How important it is to myself as the county commissioner, and the board of county commissioners-this is an environmental and health issue.

"If he's elected governor - we'll look forward to working with whoever the governor is - to try and make sure there's testing for air and water quality. We're constantly asking about that every day. He wants to ensure that there is funding on the federal side to go into these tests, so we know what we're dealing with in terms of potential health risks associated with toxic water.

"We need to continue talking about this," he said. "There's a plan in place. We just need to get the federal funding for it."

Pendergrass said the funding for projects north and south of Lake Okeechobee are a top priority.

"We don't need any more water. We've got to keep it from coming to our estuaries and our bays, and they need to send the water south to storage there."

As for what the business owners and community leaders had to say, Pendergrass said it is something he, unfortunately, hears every day.

He wants residents, along with potential tourists, to know that progress is being made on the issue.

"We need to get the perception back to let people know we are recovering through Mother Nature, and the state and federal government are responding to our water crisis here and they will continue to work with us and help fund the projects to keep this from happening again next year and years after that," Pendergrass said.

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