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County approves test project to 'vacuum' blue-green algae from waterways

July 27, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Early this morning, Lee County commissioners unanimously approved a test project for algae clean up, as well as the filing of an application for state funding, in an attempt to relieve Southwest Florida waters of the toxic blue-green algae that has plagued various communities and its residents.

The board also approved spending up to $150,000 in county dollars, if necessary, before grant money is obtained.

"I'm glad they declared their emergency status which will allow us to have grant money," said Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, who was in attendance at the emergency County Commission meeting.

County Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini walked Commissioners Cecil Pendergrass, Frank Mann and Brian Hamman through his findings from aerial pictures taken of the algal blooms across Southwest Florida and most notably, Cape Coral.

It was agreed that a short-term solution of sorts is needed to remove the algae in the most concentrated areas through a vendor already under state contract.

The biggest issue is where to dispose of the algae once it's "vacuumed up."

"The largest challenge we're dealing with at the moment is disposal of the algae and water," said County Manager Roger Desjarlais. "When that algae is disturbed, we're told that it releases more toxins and so the water that gets skimmed with this algae is probably going to be some pretty toxic stuff. We just don't have an approved method of disposal yet."

The Department of Environmental Protection is reportedly working hard to find an approved method of disposal for the toxic cyanobacteria.

"Until we have that method of disposal, there's no point in even getting started," Desjarlais continued.

The experts stated that the collection and removal of toxic algae has been untested and that these test projects will be "charting new territory."

As for how they will remove the algae from the waters, "It's pretty rudimentary," Desjarlais divulged. "It amounts to vacuuming the stuff off the top. It's mechanical, it's pretty basic. The primary focus is a skimmer type of operation."

Removing algae where it is most prevalent and is at its worst is the goal of this test project - but it will only provide a temporary fix.

"The short-term solution that we speak of is simply to get the high concentrations from everyone's backyard. No one should misunderstand, that is not a long-term solution for reducing the algae blooms themselves," warned Desjarlais.

The commissioners noted that the city of Cape Coral is one of the worst affected municipalities and a working relationship between the city and county has already taken form.

"It sounds like we still need to find a solution on where to put the algae," said Coviello. "There certainly seems to be ways to get it out of the canals that we're having a problem with. As long as they can mitigate where it goes environmentally, I think we've got a win-win situation. I'm glad the county has somewhat partnered with Cape Coral and we're looking for remedies to our problem."

Coviello addressed the panel of commissioners and experts during the public comment portion and called for "swift and decisive action that would be welcomed in our city."

Overall, the mayor seemed encouraged that there might be a glimmer of light on the issue and for residents who wake up to the foul looking and smelling algae in their backyard each morning.

Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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