Guest opinion: The choice is ours — but we must advocate for it

January 7, 2022

Rob Moher | Conservancy of SWFL President and CEO

Which version of Southwest Florida do you prefer? 

Would you rather live in a region where traffic congestion worsens, development marches further and further into rural areas, where beaches are even more crowded, where development pushes out endangered and threatened species that once thrived, where water quality continues to deteriorate, and where tax dollars are used to subsidize development?

Or would you prefer to live where growth is managed through policies that ensure sustainable and innovative design, by directing development away from the primary habitats of panthers and other endangered species, by valuing each and every acre of wetland for providing critical benefits of improving water quality, and by spending tax dollars on infrastructure that protects our coasts and our community from impacts of climate change?  

I think most of us know which choice we would prefer.

The bottom line is that protecting our water, land and wildlife secures a better future for all of us. The opposite is also true — not effectively managing our natural resources handicaps our quality of life and severely burdens the next generation.

Can the public make a difference in shaping these outcomes?  The answer is clearly yes.

When the public joins trusted environmental advocates who pursue fact and science-based policy, together we can shape our future to our benefit. The impacts of these partnerships are immense. For example, in 2019, the Florida Legislature fast-tracked three massive toll roads, including one in Southwest Florida. M-CORES, as it was known, ignored rational long-term transportation planning and instead sought to open up the remaining interior lands of our region to make way for more development.

Thankfully, groups like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida worked together with key partners and the public in the “No Roads to Ruin” coalition, which successfully lobbied for a repeal of MCORES, thus halting the proposed destructive and unnecessary Southwest Florida toll road that would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. While the fight against inappropriate roadways continues, the colossal Southwest-Central Connector is no longer an immediate threat.

Another encouraging example rests with a decision impacting the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM). The process was led by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the management and flow of water from Lake Okeechobee for the next decade. The original models being proposed by the Army Corps would have delivered far greater ecological and economic harm to Florida’s west coast through the proposed discharge rates to the Caloosahatchee River.

Through a thoughtful partnership, the Conservancy and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation hired a full-time hydrologic modeler to provide an independent science perspective to proposed models for lake discharges.  Together, we successfully advocated for a more balanced alternative for LOSOM, and the result is a plan that will be far more protective of our west coast interests than what was initially proposed.

For the coming year, there are many challenges ahead of us, as a region. Proposed oil drilling in the Big Cypress, a host of new and proposed villages and towns in eastern Collier on and adjacent to primary panther habitat, weakened permitting processes for the destruction of wetlands, possible weakening of protection for the Florida panther, ensuring the LOSOM process stays on track until adoption a year from now, and the list goes on.

We invite the public to stay informed and engaged. Help us protect our water, land and wildlife, and in so doing, protect our future and our community.

Visit our website and sign up for e-alerts and communication, follow us on Facebook and together we can help ensure we balance a growing community with the need to protect an environment that sustains our quality of life.