For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.
We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.
But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.
Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.
Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?
If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.
That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.
Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?
The state’s environment could use a little more respect from political candidates this election season.
For the past several weeks, candidates have been trying to figure what issues are most important to voters. With some individual races as tight as they are, every hopeful running — be it for county commission or state senate — knows hitting on that one topic that resonates with voters can move the needle just enough to eke out a win. (Well, that and spending a lot of money on the campaign in the last couple weeks.)
Is it education? We do have a flashpoint issue in school security. There’s is also the much bigger issue of our K-12 public schools being in the bottom fifth in the nation. And Florida’s horrendous teacher pay has actually resulted in a shortage of about 4,000 teachers statewide to begin the 2018-19 school year.
Is it the economy? We do have this issue that, despite all the jobs created the last several years, too many residents complain they need two or three of them to make ends meet. That’s what happens when most of the jobs created are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the cost of housing is going through the roof in many places like, well, Palm Beach County.
Is it the environment? Or as I call it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of primary ballot issues.” Voters are witnessing a red tide causing massive fish kills, and manatee and turtle deaths up and down the Southwest Florida coast. They are watching the ongoing green goo affectionately known as “toxic blue-green algae” find its way into the backyard waterways of Treasure Coast residents. And of course, there’s that long-term, existential threat to our very way of life that everyone fears but few want to talk about: sea level rise. (That’s right, I said it.)
In a survey released by the USA Today Network and Florida Atlantic University in June, voters said the environment was their No. 3 concern after economy and school safety, respectively. But unlike these first two, environmental issues cannot seem to get and/or maintain traction on the campaign trail.
Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.
And on August 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the ongoing toxic red tide bloom.
“The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller.
But around that same time, when he had the opportunity to confront Treasure Coast residents about the blue-green goo that’s ruining their fishing and boating, Scott elected to do the equivalent of a boating flyover — leaving residents and their questions hanging.
The governor-turned-U.S. Senate candidate isn’t much different from his political brethren on this front; though most can seem to muster a bit more face-to-face compassion. Still, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine tried to ride his sea-level-rise street cred to the top of the ticket, it didn’t work that well. Sure, voters like that stuff. But who can focus on an environmental threat when another candidate is accusing you of being a supporter of President Donald Trump, and guns are blazing at high school football games?
As a result, the environment gets pushed to the back-burner in a state that built its image off of sunshine and beautiful beaches. The state’s three-legged economy — tourism, agriculture and real estate — is so dependent on the environment that every storm season holds the potential to lay waste to all three. Witness: Hurricane Irma.
But so short is our attention span in this era of breaking news that environmental issues, even when they are staring us in the face daily — again, I mention toxic red tide and green algae — can’t keep a politician’s attention. Today, for example, in the wake of a mass shooting at a gaming tournament on Sunday in Jacksonville, gun control is the topic du jour.
Sigh… maybe it will be different in the general election campaign.
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What do you think?… Should the environment be a higher priority for Florida politicians?