Mary Ann Martin reflects on Lake Okeechobee

CLEWISTON — As our group boarded Koby Kreiger’s bass boat Monday morning, March 11, for an outing to see Lake Okeechobee conditions firsthand, Mary Ann Martin took a moment to marvel at how far their Roland Martin Marina & Resort had come since the early 1980s.

She said that when she first moved here, she used to “get the kids up, feed ’em breakfast and come down here and spend eight, 10 hours a day” at the property she and husband Roland had purchased at the edge of the Herbert Hoover Dike. It was somewhat ramshackle in those days nearly two generations ago. “And then I said, this place has got to come off; these docks were falling in, everything. It was nasty.”

Mary Ann Martin

It took her and Roland five years or better after they bought the land to rehab the docks and facilities and get to where they finally could start building their dream marina.

“I didn’t have a lot of money so I started building condos first, because the lake was hotter than a firecracker. So I said, ‘You know, if I loved to fish, I’d buy me a condo down here.’ And … I sold all the condos and got enough money to start the marina.”

She wondered why we’d requested another outing to hear her thoughts now, when “I speak and I rant and I rave and get emotional” at public meetings week in and week out, year after year. With all that’s happening regarding our biggest natural resource in south-central Florida, the headwaters of the Everglades — one of the world’s most fragile and endangered ecosystems — we wanted to ask her if she thought she and Lake O’s other voices were being heeded.

“I think that I’m being heard but I don’t think that people are doing much about it. You know, that’s the problem with government people. They’ve got a job, they know they’re going to get paid every week. I’m really disappointed in the lack of attention, the lack of improvements. They just sort of clock in and clock out.

“I’m real upset with the corps (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), the Legislature in Florida as well as the governor.

“This is a prize! (Lake O) is the best thing in Florida. I mean, sure, Disney’s great, but they all built that. That’s all owned by somebody else. The state owns this lake. This lake brings more tourism … not as much as Disney … but guess whose money is going into their pockets? It’s the owners and the Disney corporation. The money that comes from this lake when (tourists) come down here goes into these mom-and-pops around the lake. It goes in to my fishing guides, these guys that love to fish, that love this lake..”

Sustains the economy from the roots up
“Absolutely. And we’ve got to protect it. You can’t let these people that don’t know anything about this lake come in here and tell us what to do. We know about the lake.”

Brian Mast?
“Thank you! And the governor needs to quit listening to him. He needs to come down here and listen to me. He needs to listen to Koby. He needs to go on the lake. I’ll guarantee it, he’s never been on this lake. Has he?

Don’t know.
“I’m going to make a challenge. How can you make legislation about something you’ve never seen before? Even a crook gets a trial, you know. They don’t know that, number one, the whole secret to this lake is vegetation. It’s what keeps this lake healthy. It supplies clean water, with its filtration system. It supplies habitat. And it supplies a beautiful, beautiful place. It’s so natural. And that’s what I see. And that’s what I want to see more of. I want them to stop the spraying. Hydrilla is great! Oh, ‘It’s on the bad list’ (says the FWC). More fish were caught out of hydrilla-filled Toho (Lake Tohopekaliga) at this last FLW tournament than any other place. Those fish hang in that hydrilla, the bait hang in that hydrilla, and that hydrilla cleans the water. Lots of fish were caught in the hydrilla up there and they want to kill it.

“What we need is a good burn on this lake. You need to call the corps or FWC on how much they did burn. They love to throw numbers ou…”

What did you think of the recent FWC hearings?
“Well, they decided to stop spraying, to put a stop on it. I don’t know how long that’s going to last, but at least that’s given this lake a little time to get its breathe.”

Koby added: “Poisons … (are) not being diluted because it’s only being sprayed around the edges, and there are no tides that mix it up, to speak of, really.”

Ms. Martin resumed: “That’s the point. Tell me what you’re spraying. Tell me how many tons of Roundup you’ve put into this lake. What other chemicals are in here?

“It’s terrible … it never goes away. It just stays there. Did you see that jar that Ramon has with all the crud on the bottom? You need to take a look at that thing. It’s like black jelly. That’s the crud that’s all the decayed vegetation that sinks to the bottom. You know, they even sprayed all the lotus and the waterlilies on this lake. I said whaaat? Oh, they’re an invasive species. I said, ‘Do you know who loves to see these lotus and waterlilies?’ The people that take airboat rides. See if you can find any lotus or waterlilies on the lake now.”

“Back in the ’70s when Roland and I first came to Lake Okeechobee … This lake, was covered — covered — in peppergrass, as far as you could see. All the way out to the horizon was peppergrass, and you could see this trail going through there, and a trail would cut off this way to go into Coot Bay, a trail would cut off this way to get to some of the areas west of here, and east of here. They just had their own little roads. And on the very horizon, you’d see about six or eight boats out there. And they all had these cane poles, and they were all bent! Every one of ’em was bent. And I said, ‘Look at that! Those people got fish on!’ And the guy on the boat said, ‘Those are shellcrackers. They’re out there catchin’ shellcrackers.’

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