Anglers for Lake O unite to refute coastal media’s nonsense

CLEWISTON — Ramon Iglesias, as general manager of Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort, hears all the varying points of view day after day about Lake Okeechobee discharges and the summer of 2018’s uproar on the coasts regarding blue-green algae (east) and foul red tide (west), supposedly caused by polluted lake water sent through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Breezy McMillan with Ramon Iglesias and Mike Krause at the Martin resort in Clewiston. Photo courtesy of Ramon Iglesias.

Breezy McMillan from Belle Glade and many members of her family long residing locally are veteran Lake O tournament anglers who’ve been plying the big lake and its wide marshes for decades. Among them, they all deal with many people day to day who either are retirees or urban refugees living here who love to fish on Lake Okeechobee or vacationers who live to visit it and do the same, supporting a wide variety of businesses around Lake Okeechobee’s southern edges.

Mr. Iglesias and Ms. McMillan announced the formation of a new advocacy group called Anglers for Lake Okeechobee, or AFLO, last week.

They had a meet-the-founders get-together Friday night, Oct. 19, and then were giving out some swag emblazoned with the logo promoting their organization and the idea behind it from a booth set up at the Roland Martin Marine Center Series Weigh-in on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Iglesias and Ms. McMillan are joining forces to get other fishing enthusiasts, guides and regular anglers on the Big Lake signing on and throwing their weight behind AFLO’s point.

It is, basically, that much of what’s been reported in coastal media sources about Southwest and Southeast Florida’s water woes is not only misleading and/or erroneous regarding the sources but in some cases outright false or maliciously misstated.

They want to sharpen their point and get it across over the hubbub of hot air and heated politics heard in the coastal markets.

Declared Mr. Iglesias: “You know, for the last couple of years, Lake Okeechobee has gotten beaten down with bad press, and everyone’s complaining about the discharges, and no one focuses on where the water comes from. So we have to draw attention, and the reason I’m starting the organization is these fishermen post things on the internet in defense of what’s going on on the east and west coasts. We’re kind of all over the place, and we’re looking to unify — and that’s our basic, main mission is to slow the flow coming into Lake O.”

He said they started a website following up on their launch of the #SlowtheFlow Facebook page as the summer began, and realized they needed to push it more.

“You guys (the Lake Okeechobee News) have done a really great job of putting out facts, and unfortunately, that’s not what’s getting out there. It’s really disappointing what the media have been putting out there on the east and west coasts,” Mr. Iglesias said.

“So in July we had a rally for Slow the Flow, and we took 26 people out from the east and west coasts. We had pontoon boats, airboats and bass boats out there, and every one of those people when they came off the lake were saying basically the same thing, that, oh, this isn’t what they’ve seen on the news. Well, ironically, we took three separate reporters out, from Link News, NBC2 and Fox4, and they all told their captain, ‘This isn’t what we’ve been reporting on the lake.’

“And then that evening, they posted the bad stuff, you know, and I know their producers just pushed it on them, but it’s just crazy how we just can’t get a fair shake.”

Ms. McMillan said, “My family’s been on the lake for many decades now dating back to being commercial fishermen, and we’ve just grown from there, doing tournaments. We’ve had tournaments that have been coming to the lake annually that aren’t coming because of the bad publicity, which is all fake news.” She was referring to the FLW series.

“We’re not going to have that coming in January, and we feel like that’s going to really hurt everybody, the tourism and everything,” she added.

Mr. Iglesias said: “We will continue to educate people and explain to them that over 95 percent of the water that comes into Lake Okeechobee, comes from the north. So a big part of the solution to fix this problem has to be storage north of the lake, and we must use deep injection wells to store water and clean water, and ASR (aquifer storage and recovery) wells, and we just need a better focus to north of the lake.”

Ms. McMillan feels strongly about their mission. “We still have many tournaments, every weekend, every month, year-round around the lake because it’s a great fishery, but it is going to start affecting us if we don’t do something now.”

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