Congressman Brian Mast apparently objects to the water resource experts hired by the rural counties around Lake Okeechobee to represent them on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) Project Delivery Team (PDT).
In his May 10 letter to Col. Andrew Kelly, commander of the Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mast wrote: “I am writing today to urge you to reject the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) Alternative BB, which was written and submitted by two lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League. Under no circumstances should lobbyists for the sugar cane industry be empowered to write the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, which determines when toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee are sent to estuaries.”
Tom MacVicar is president of MacVicar Consulting, a water management firm that works with the agriculture industry in the Lake Okeechobee and Everglades watersheds. Bill Baker is a senior engineer at the firm.
At their May 13 meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission authorized Chairman Terry Burroughs to send a letter to Col. Kelly in response to Mast’s missive.
“I just reviewed Congressman Mast’s letter to you regarding Mr. Baker and Mr. MacVicar,” he wrote. “Okeechobee County has secured a contract with them to represent our interests, along with other communities around Lake Okeechobee, as it relates to the technical matters associated with this project.
“The commission resonated with their experience and expertise with your staff and felt confident this will lead to a positive robust outcome that will not be compromised by political grandeur. Additionally, we encourage the PDT to evaluate all solutions.”
In his letter, Mast states that LOSOM Project Delivery Team (PDT) members are limited to representatives of government agencies, with the public only allowed to comment during limited periods. He objected to the inclusion of Tom MacVicar and Bill Baker as participating members of the PDT, because their other clients include the Florida Sugar Cane League.
At the May 7 virtual PDT meeting, Jessica Mallet, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) engineering lead on the project, explained LOSOM alternatives AA through EE were modeled. Four of the options provided benefits to some parts of the system with tradeoffs in other areas. The fifth option, EE, is a plan that incorporates the concepts of memory and flexibility. These models will be used as a starting point for collaboration with the inter-agency modeling center, she explained.
In his letter, Mast claimed Alternate BB, which prioritized water supply, should not even be considered.
One of the other models featured a plan Mast has supported which sends no water from the lake to the St. Lucie canal. Lee County officials objected to that model, which increases harmful releases to the Caloosahatchee River.
At the May 14 meeting of the County Coalition fro Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and Lake Worth Lagoon, Gary Ritter of Florida Farm Bureau also addressed the issue.
“The lake communities have represenation on the LOSOM PDT," Ritter said. “They are enttitled to have representation on that PDT, whoever they decide to choose. They should not be dictated to who they can and can’t have as their represenation.
“Letters that have been sent to the corps have really been outrageous and out of line," he added.