Rep. Ray Rodrigues recently drilled South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Drew Bartlett in a House committee meeting, and now he has followed up with a letter that doesn’t mince words.
When Bartlett came before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Rodrigues questioned why Bartlett failed to request authorization for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP) from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
At the time, Bartlett said he needed to discuss an unrelated project — the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir — before he could send the request to the corps.
Rodrigues isn’t buying it. Nor should he, considering Bartlett’s account contradicts that of the SFWMD board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“What is disappointing is that on November 14, 2019, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) discussed the LOWRP. At the meeting’s end, you were asked by SFWMD Board Chairman Chauncey Goss if you understood their direction to write the letter. In response, you responded ‘absolutely,” the Estero Republican wrote in a letter dated Jan. 29.
“Despite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and board members requesting the letter be written, you have failed to comply with this request, raising questions about your effectiveness as Executive Director.”
To Rodrigues, Bartlett’s dodge during his committee testimony was “completely inadequate and demonstrates government bureaucracy at its worst.”
Rodrigues’ ire is understandable considering his Lee County-based district has been profoundly impacted by discharges from Lake Okeechobee, and one of his top priorities is preventing future discharges from wreaking havoc in Southwest Florida.
LOWRP would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. When it and other planned projects are completed, harmful Lake O discharges are expected to drop by 80%.
And the hard part is over. Thanks in no small part to Rodrigues, the Legislature included $50 million in state funding for LOWRP in the budget signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis after the 2019 Legislative Session.
All that remains is federal authorization, which will continue on in limbo until Bartlett pens and posts a letter to the Army Corps. Rodrigues’ letter closed by urging Bartlett to “stop playing politics with our water” and move forward with the request.
The letter is below.