A call to action to protect our waterways and our economy

op-ed[dropcap]M[/dropcap]artin County’s Tourism and Marketing Manager Nerissa Okiye deserves applause for leading the call to action to support tourism and our local economy, even in light of the recent Lake Okeechobee discharges.

For the past three years, the Economic Council of Martin County has advocated that state and federal leaders do their part to fund the approved projects that deliver solutions. Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Projects (CERP), such as the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, must be completed.

So must the Central Everglades Preservation Projects (CEPP), which will move additional water south of Lake Okeechobee, and clean it before sending it to the Everglades. We also must demand the federal government finish the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs now; as well as finding additional options to store and clean more water north of Lake Okeechobee, since that’s where the majority of the water comes from.

A comprehensive and mandatory septic-to-sewer conversion effort and local basin runoff also need to be addressed as major contributors to river pollution. Evidence of this was the Florida Health Department’s warnings in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River at Leighton Park, weeks before the lake discharges began.

A variety of solutions are needed in order to successfully address this complex issue, and they all need to be acted upon. But, as we all advocate for immediate and long-term relief for our river and estuary in our own way, we need to let the world know that we’re still open for business in Martin County. After all, our waterways contribute more than $645 million to our local economy each year.

Tourism is a vitally important economic engine for our community, responsible for generating $432 million in revenue for local businesses and adding $33.5 million to our local tax base. This is revenue we can ill afford to live without.

We’re all frustrated with the continued discharges to our already troubled waterways, and we need to continue to push our state and federal officials to find a solution… and fast. But, we can’t turn our backs on local businesses while we fight. The Economic Council will continue to stand up for all businesses in Martin County – large and small—that are being adversely affected.

Oikye and her team have created a digital marketing campaign, anchored by a video that features the many reasons why visitors should come here, and why we all live here – our parks and beaches, our arts and cultural offerings, our many attractions and green space, and most of all our people. Each one of us can help by viewing the video on Martin County’s website, and then sharing it with others.

Instead of scaring the tourists away, why don’t we invite them here to experience why we’re all so passionate about preserving and protecting the quality of life in Martin County.

“This is about leveraging the power of our collective voice during a crisis,” Oikye said.

We owe our residents and our businesses nothing less.

Charles Gerardi is president and CEO of the Economic Council of Martin County.

View related videos at http://www.mceconomy.org/p/92/my-river-story and at https://www.youtube.com/user/MartinCountyCVB. For more information: http://www.mceconomy.org/uploads/docs/blocks/250/practical-solutions-to-water-quality-crisis.pdf.