Glades residents launch ‘Fix the Dike’ campaign

OKEECHOBEE — At the kickoff gathering for a petition drive to “Fix the Dike” on Oct. 19 at the site of the Port Mayaca memorial to the victims of the 1928 hurricane, Glades area residents called on state and federal officials to speed dike repairs.

“We are here today because today is the day we can no longer wait to fix the dike. The dike was built to protect those communities that surround Lake Okeechobee from devastating floods from hurricanes and insurmountable rainfall,” said Tammy Jackson-Moore of Guardians of the Glades.

Courtesy Guardians of the Glades

“It’s time to fix the dike. Our lives depend on it.”

“Today we are standing on holy ground where those who perished in the 1928 storm are buried. If we do not fix the dike and fix it rather quickly, we will have that same incident happen in our own community. Our lives depend on the dike. Let’s get the dike fixed as quickly as possible to make sure that we don’t have another incident like we had in the 1928 storm.

“These victims that lie in this sacred ground have not been forgotten, and we honor their memory,” said Janet Taylor of Glades Lives Matter.

“I was born in Louisiana but grew up and was raised on a farm on the southern end of the lake within a stone’s throw of Lake Okeechobee,” she said.

She said the farm included a settlement called Nassau quarter.

Mrs. Taylor said that her grandmother, known affectionately as “Mama Liz,” told her stories about the Nassau settlement, where they lived.

“Much of what happened to the workers and residents of these farms was not recorded, especially for the blacks,” she stated.

“According to my grandmother, people were suddenly caught up in the fast-rising high water from the lake, and the high wind which exceeded 100 miles per hour, and there was nowhere for them to go and no shelter. Homes were destroyed and blown away.

“Homes back then were only wood frame homes for the workers,” she added.

“During the storm of 1928, my grandmother’s brother was swept away and was never found,” she said.

Many of the people who worked the farms in that area were swept away, she said. Many of the bodies buried in mass graves were not identified. In some cases, entire families were lost in the storm.

“Fixing the dike is very personal to me,” Mrs. Taylor said.

“Our lives matter,” she said.

She said that Congressman Alcee Hastings, who was in Belle Glade on Wednesday for a briefing on the current condition of the dike, was the first to sign the Fix the Dike petition.

Mrs. Taylor said that while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials assured Congressman Hastings and those who attended the update with him, that the dike is currently in good shape, with just some minor seepage, Glades residents are still very much concerned about the dike safety issues.

“We can’t wait for 2025 for them to fix the dike. We need the dike fixed as soon as possible.”

“Our message to the Florida State Legislature and the Congress is that we are depending on them to protect the lives of the people around Lake Okeechobee,” said Ms. Jackson-Moore. “We are going to hold them accountable to make certain that it happens. We want to work closely with them. We know it is a task that is a surmountable task. We are going to protect our community and we expect them to protect us as well.”

The Fix the Dike campaign petition states:

I am signing the #FixTheDike petition to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike because I want to Ensure Safety:

• The 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane resulted in the death of more than 2,500 people, making it the second deadliest hurricane in U.S. history.

• Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, prompting the federal government to look closely at which structures remain at risk.

• A risk assessment conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Katrina showed that the Herbert Hoover Dike is one of the most “at risk/susceptible to failure” dams in the nation and must be repaired.

• When the dike failed previously, flood waters spread all the way to Miami. Today, the lives and property of more than 6.5 million Floridians in South Florida are at risk if the Herbert Hoover Dike fails again.

• Current plans don’t call for completion of dike repairs until 2025 — at least 8 more years of fear and uncertainty is unacceptable.
Protect Glades and South Florida communities:

• Prior to Hurricane Irma, the state of Florida called for a mandatory evacuation of all Glades communities due to uncertainty of the Herbert Hoover Dike.

• Any uncertainty over the safety of living in proximity to the Herbert Hoover Dike threatens the lives, the communities and the livelihood as well as economic security.

• The funding Florida is seeking will protect the Glades communities — along with all of South Florida — sooner by expediting Herbert Hoover Dike repairs and will be money well spent.

Further Florida’s preservation:

• The primary benefit to fixing the dike is greater safety; however, completing dike repairs also will allow federal regulators to revisit the current temporary Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS 8) that controls lake levels.

• The damage to the coastal estuaries from Lake Okeechobee discharges is a man-made crisis due primarily to concerns about the integrity of the dike while rehabilitation/repair efforts are underway.

• Expediting repairs to the dike — along with completing other ongoing authorized Everglades restoration projects — will ensure that water management decisions for Lake Okeechobee are not solely based on dike safety concerns that continually force large, damaging discharges to our coastal estuaries.

By signing this petition, I am urging members of the Florida Legislature and Congress to fully fund and expedite repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike. It’s up to all of us to advocate for safety and protection of Glades and South Florida communities.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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