Sen. Bill Nelson visits Fort Myers to address Lee algae blooms, Hughes oil drilling

 — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson stopped in Fort Myers on Friday to assure the region he is pushing his battle against toxic algae outbreaks in the Caloosahatchee River and keeping an eye on oil drilling in Collier County…

The Florida Democrat visited Page Field to tell local political leaders and members of the media about efforts to block legislation he authored that’s aimed at battling the algae outbreaks in the Caloosahatchee and area estuaries.

Nelson said a Republican senator whose identity isn’t yet known blocked the $82 million measure late Thursday. But Nelson said he’s confident the Senate will pass the measure next week.

“The Republican senator that raised an objection did it secretly, so we don’t know (who it is), but I can’t imagine it’s a substantive issue,” Nelson said. “I have 14 senators with me as sponsors on the bill, and it’s bipartisan.”

Nelson said one of the prime sponsors is U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“He’s a Republican of Ohio, so I think it’s probably somebody just wanting to check to see if it had all its ducks in line, but we’ll get it passed next week,” Nelson said of the objection.

Pushed on what he thought the objection might be, Nelson said: “I don’t think there is an objection. I think somebody just got a burr under their saddle.”

Nelson said the toxic algae bill would be worth about $20 million a year for several years in grant money for research into finding out what can be done to counter the harmful effects of algae blooms.

“For example, red tide is a form of algae bloom,” he said. “But the main algae blooms we’re concentrating on today come from all these excess nutrients that come down the river. Of course, we’ve all seen a river when it dies. There are no mullets jumping, no osprey diving, no porpoises rolling. It’s a sad sight.”

Mayors from around Lee County, including Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson, showed up at Page Field on Friday to express support for Sen. Nelson’s toxic algae bill.

“We’re behind you 100 percent, and we do very much see it as a nonpartisan issue, as well it should be,” Henderson, a Republican, told Sen. Nelson.

Bonita’s Nelson, a Democrat, echoed those sentiments.

“If there’s one issue that can bring us all together, it’s water,” he said.

During Friday’s appearance at Page Field, Sen. Nelson also tackled the issue of a controversial new oil-drilling technique that injects the well with a dissolving solution using enough pressure to open the rock formation and prop it open with sand. Well-drilling opponents and environmental advocates fear the technique could lead to water pollution.

The issue arose locally when Texas-based Dan. A. Hughes Co. performed the procedure at a well near Lake Trafford in Immokalee.

Hughes Co. officials have said the company did nothing wrong and caused no harm, but it agreed to a consent order when the state Department of Environmental Protection fined it $25,000. Sen. Nelson later called for a federal probe into Hughes’ activities in the area.

“First of all, I want to see how it develops, because it develops day by day,” Sen. Nelson said of the legal battle over the drilling technique. “Just a couple of days ago, the Collier County commissioners took a position to proceed in an action against the state Department of Environmental Protection, so I want to see where this goes.”

He was referring to commissioners’ asking for a hearing with DEP over the Immokalee-area Hughes well.

Late Friday afternoon, as Sen. Nelson was finishing his Fort Myers event, the DEP sent Collier commissioners a letter saying the agency is planning to ask property owners for permission to conduct more groundwater testing at the Immokalee-area oil well site.

Whatever the legal outcome may be, Sen. Nelson said he would keep a close eye on the issue.

“I can definitely tell you that not only is it on my radar, it’s in my telescope,” he said. “Because if we’re spending $100 billion on restoring the Everglades, I don’t want anything that’s going to impinge on that.”

Sen. Nelson said his interest in the matter continues his long history of looking out for the environment.

“Look at what we had to do and how long it took me to do it to keep oil drilling off the coast here,” he said. “I can tell you there’s one place in the entire continental outer shelf of the United States of America that’s off-limits by law, and that’s the coast of Florida, from the Florida Keys to … the Florida-Alabama line.”

 

Photo caption: Corey Perrine/Staff Patrons are seen near the water Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012 in downtown Fort Myers. The city, on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, unveiled its latest project, the Downtown Riverfront Development Project – Phase I, a vital step towards revitalizing the River District. By extending the Caloosahatchee River up to Bay Street, they hope to attract a hotel, restaurants and more private-sector offices. Separated by Edwards Drive, the project creates two basins that filter pollutants from storm runoff.

Naples News

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