On the smell of money

And then there was the time Gov. Claude Kirk went to Perry for a little flesh-pressing and back-slapping. 

Perry being a paper mill town, the stench that day was especially ripe. But when Perry’s mayor ventured an apology, Kirk wouldn’t have it. 

“Don’t apologize,” Claude said. “Why that’s the smell of money.”

Claude’s quip resonates when reading about all the brown water that’s lapping the shores of Gulf Coast beaches and offending the sensibilities of millionaire waterfront homeowners in Hobe Sound, on the Atlantic side. 

That filthy water is the look, if not the smell, of money. Although you’d never convince all the business people who make their livings selling the Florida pristine beach dream to tourists. They’re in a panic.

No, it’s the smell of money for the Big Ag tycoons who have for years been dumping their nutrient rich effluent into Lake Okeechobee with impunity. Now, to keep the Rhode Island-sized lake from breaking free of its earthen prison, water “managers” are frantically dumping the filthy stuff into rivers that flow east and west.

And every politician with a dog in the hunt wants to blame someone else for the godawful mess. Gov. Rick Scott liked to blame former President Obama for failing to keep Okeechobee’s dikes in good repair. The Dems blame Gov. Scott for his disdain of environmental stewardship.

But really, they are blaming the wrong villains. And in any case, the bad guys are long dead and buried. 

Lay this one on the doorsteps of Herbert Hoover and Baron Collier. 

Hoover being the President who toured Lake Okeechobee in the 1930s, after a couple of killer hurricanes, and decided we could solve Florida’s killer ‘cane problem, for now and ever more, by locking the misbehaving lake up behind trillions of tons of packed dirt. 

Collier being the southwest Florida developer who championed construction of a cross-Everglades highway – the Tamiami Trail – thereby enabling development to explode on both east and west coasts.

They both seemed like good ideas at the time.

But locking up Lake Okeechobee turned it into a cesspool. 

And Tamiami Trail – a marvel of early 20th Century highway engineering – turned out to be an incredibly efficient dam with which to disrupt the natural flow of water south through the River of Grass from – surprise! – Lake Okeechobee.

“Everglades National Park is so water-starved they even have alligators dying. This is what is so idiotic! That you get too much water north of Tamiami Trail and then all the deer population is drowning and you’ve got starvation of water just to the south in Everglades National Park,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has said week.

When you come down to it, what’s polluting Florida’s formerly white beaches right now is arrogance. This notion that we can reengineer our wet and spongy peninsula and force it to submit to whatever we want to do with it – build condos where mangroves once sprouted, put up big box parking lots that plug aquifer recharge. Ditch, dike and drain swamps so a thousand subdivisions can blossom. Build highways to reach ever more remote stretches of developable land.

Arrogance is the history of Florida, folks.

Want to accommodate barges? Channelize the Apalachicola and make the Ocklawaha disappear. Is that winding, twisting Kissimmee River a nuisance to “progress”? Straighten it out. Hey, what’s with all those algae blooms up and down the St. John’s? Can’t be all that runoff, urban and agriculture.

And Florida is still flush with a surplus of arrogance. That’s why new high-rises are still going up on Miami Beach even as rising sea levels flood the streets. It’s why virtually every natural spring in the state is in decline. 

And seriously, with Florida’s drinking water stored beneath our feet, what sane person would even think about fracking down there for oil and gas?

Arrogance comes in small doses as well as big ones; hence the push to open up wetter, spongier eastern Alachua County to west Gainesville-style development. And hang whatever unintended consequences lurk down that well traveled road. 

Because that’s what we do in Florida. To paraphrase Uncle Walt, if we can imagine it we can build it.

Now we just need to figure out how to market brown beaches to tourists?

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

    

Author: floridavelocipede

A sometime journalist who used to string words together for a living before I retired to run a non-profit cycle touring organization that will henceforth go unnamed, as I have subsequently retired from that career as well. I write a bi-monthly column, theater reviews and an occasional magazine piece for my old newspaper. If I still had a business card it would read: Ron Cunningham: Trained Observer Of The Human Condition. Because like The Donald, you know, ego.

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