Speaking to the Naples Press Club at its May 16 luncheon, Rob Moher, President and CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, talked about “How to ‘eat’ your fish cake and have it, too: The Future of SWFL from an Environmental Perspective.”
“The bad news is that the growth in Florida, since 2014, seems unstoppable,” said Moher. “Florida is now the third most populous state, just passing New York. And the reality is that 1,000 people a day are moving to Florida. We might hit 26 million people by 2030, at the current 15 percent growth.” Moher asked, “Why do they come to Florida? They are seeking the sunshine.”
He continued, “Right now, in Collier County, we have 338,000 people; if you count in the seasonal people, you would have 410,000. Where will all of the new people arriving in SWFL live?” Moher answered, “Half of the build out will be east of 951, and when you look at SW Florida, the economy is the environment.” To underscore that statement, he said, “When water quality has problems, tourism drops $500 million, based on a recent Florida retailers’ survey.
“There are multiple pieces of the puzzle,” said Moher. “We have to stop destroying the wetlands. We have to stop putting pollution into the water. We need more water storage. And the Everglades restoration is very important.”
“This year, the 12-inch rainfall in January was a 30-year high. The U.S. Corps of Engineers and legislators had no plan, no solution that could be applied.” In talking about the recent resulting release of large amounts of polluted waters from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, Moher said that instead of doing that, storing more water and conveying more water south is the answer, and that movement of the water south will help restore the Everglades, as well. “Yes, we need to fix the Lake Okeechobee dike, but it’s being fixed for human safety, not for sustainability,” he said. “Another option is buying some critical lands south of the Lake to take some of the pressure off, too.”
In answering a question from the audience, Moher feels that in dealing with the growth issue, smart growth is better than poorly planned, unplanned growth. “We need to avoid the wetlands and protect what we have. Collier County has the highest loss of wetlands in the USA. We must build smartly. We live in a place like nowhere else on earth. We need to protect what we have here.”
“The bottom line,” said Moher, “is that private rights must be balanced with community rights, but we need to choose a more balanced form of development for sustainability.”
He suggested, “We need to put roads where they belong, near the existing cities; we don’t need new cities. We could help the ones we have.” He reminded the attendees that four out of five county commissioners will change with the upcoming election. “The Conservancy works with all of the county government. We want good policy based on community interests.”
“We all need to be engaged, and one way for each person to do this is go to conservancy.org for a mobile news sign-up,” Moher said, asking each person in the room to get involved.
Mr. Moher’s PowerPoint presentation is linked here, in case you desire more details.