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Fear, anger, health worries, cautious optimism at discussion on how the Army Corps should manage Lake Okeechobee

It was standing room only as an energized crowd of moms and mayors, storekeepers and biologists gave the Army Corps of Engineers an earful Tuesday. The Corps, which is in charge of Lake Okeechobee, is hosting a series of meetings around its watershed to listen to citizens about how it manages the third largest lake within the continental United States.

Releases of water down the Caloosahatchee River and to the Gulf of Mexico dominated the discussion of those who attended the meeting at the mosquito control office in Buckingham. Those releases happen when water levels get high enough to stress the aging Herbert Hoover Dike as well as during the dry season when the estuary needs fresh water.

The meeting was part of a periodic review of the way it controls the lake, and gathering input is just the first step, said Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds, deputy commander for South Florida. “What issues are important to you?” she asked. “How would you measure success? What solutions would you like us to consider?”

Those who filled the seats were a who’s who of elected officials, nonprofits, activists and concerned citizens galvanized by the recent toxic algae crises. Southwest Florida and its ecosystem is still struggling to recover from a relentless red tide and lingering toxic cyanobacteria blooms that devastated the region’s wildlife, reputation with tourists and economy.

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