JACKSONVILLE – Work on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) has resulted in thousands of emails and letters sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Just how much attention does this avalanche of mail receive? Does a letter from a Congressman or the governor get more consideration than one from a grandmother? Do mail and email campaigns with hundreds of identical messages make any difference to the corps?
In a May 21 media conference, Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, said the corps has received “a ton” of letters about LOSOM. “Communication has been great,” he added.
When work on the Herbert Hoover Dike is complete, LOSOM will replace the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). LORS, established in 2008, tries to keep the lake within the ecological envelope recommended by scientists for the health of the lake – with a goal of starting the dry season at 15.5 feet above sea level, with the lake slowly receding during the dry season down to 12.5 feet at the start of the wet season.
“We have been getting very consistent communication from the stakeholders around Florida,” said Kelly. Before the pandemic, the corps held scoping meetings all around the lake, and as far south as the Florida Keys, to meet face to face with stakeholders.
Since the pandemic, engagement switched to virtual meetings with up to six different engagements a month, including the main Project Delivery Team (PDT) meetings, which draw about 200 participants and subteam meetings with draw up to 100 participants.
For the most recent iteration of modeling they chose arrays focused solely on one goal – such as water supply, lake ecology or estuary ecology.
“We created five balanced arrays,” he said. “Everyone has a different perspective on balance.
“We learned how things work together,” Kelly say. “For example, if you are interested in flows south in the dry season, you want to keep the lake higher.’
He said the corps will continue modeling of those five alternatives. The modeling data will be released June 4 and discussed at an online meeting on June 11.
“On June 11, we will explain what the data looks like,” said Kelly.
He said they anticipate selecting a plan in July, which will be further defined before it goes into effect in 2022 when dike repairs are complete.
“We’ve got all perspectives in mind,” he said. “We trying to get the lake the best balance we can.”
Kelly said there are some stakeholders who are louder than others, which has raised the question: Does volume or loudness by one group outweigh the concerns of others who are less aggressive?
“Data carries equal weight across the board,” said Kelly. “If we get one phone call that has a data point, we will use it. If we get 90,000 emails that have the exact same data point, we will use that data point as well.”
Kelly said LOSOM will be based on science.