BY MARCY SHORTUSE - Lately it seems like politics has turned everyone against each other. From Facebook and television rants from both sides of the presidential debate right down to Charlotte and Lee County primaries … if someone’s goal in the upper hierarchy is to rip us asunder, they are succeeding.
There have been two examples of that in our area lately, just in local government. Examples that make me want to pound my head into the nearest wall, wondering just what has happened to taking an appointed or elected position seriously.
I was made aware of the first by an article awhile ago in the Sun Herald by Steve Reilly. It was all about our iguana issue. Charlotte County commissioners trying to determine whether or not to approve the $56,000 contract the northern part of the island has with the United States Department of Agriculture. It was obvious from the start that the commissioners had little to no clue what has been going on out here for the past umpteen years when it comes to the iguana eradication problem. I think that’s pretty amazing in itself, considering the worldwide press the issue has received.
“Does Lee County take care of the Lee County side of Gasparilla Island?” said Commissioner Bob Starr. “There isn’t a gate they go through … I don’t want to be paying for Lee County lizards.”
Then, Commissioner Chris Constance said that Charlotte County should hire an iguana herder, who could send all the lizards back to Lee County.
Really? It gets better.
Starr asked whether or not it would be more economical to combine the two counties for one eradicator (the politically correct word for “trapper”) to handle.
Andy Stevens, the acting director of Charlotte County Community Services, said, “We looked at that and it is something we will continue to look at.”
Again, really? If they had looked into anything at all they would have realized that this was a back-and-forth issue on Gasparilla Island for a long, long time. What it boiled down to was that Charlotte County wasn’t very keen on paying for half, or even a third, of a project costing that much money, when the Charlotte County piece of the island just isn’t that big.
It’s really a simple matter to research. When you Google “iguanas + Gasparilla Island,” there is ample information pointing to many of the answers they seek. But the commissioners simply hadn’t been paying attention. It’s quite apparent they didn’t have lizards popping out of their toilets or damaging their attics and crawl spaces.
The people of Gasparilla Island, however, are intimately acquainted with those problems. To have it made light of is aggravating, to say the least.
The second instance of governmental lunacy occurred when Lew Hastings, the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce director, went before the Charlotte County Marine Advisory Committee in Port Charlotte. He was attempting to get a grant for environmental education, a grant that had already been approved by WCIND. A grant that one of the Charlotte County Commissioners had promised several chamber board members was in the bag. It was for $5,000.
Lew could barely make a presentation before all 21 members of the committee came back with a resounding “absolutely not.” Want to know why? They said they weren’t interested in “funding a fishing tournament.”
When it was explained that this would be for educational materials to help encourage the proper stewardship of our natural resources (the fishery) Lew was told that the people who need the education are the tournament fisherman themselves. They said that the anglers are the ones who are doing the damage.
“When I brought up economic impact of proper education to keep our natural resources sustainable for future generations, I was told I was in the wrong house asking for money for that,” Lew said. “There was an economic development commission that handles that.”
A similar grant from Lee County has already been approved. But the Charlotte County MAC would hear none of it. And, as Lew left the meeting after proffering his thanks to the committee for their time, one person stopped him.
“This isn’t over,” they said to Lew. It didn’t make much difference to him at the time though, as he was essentially blind with rage over the whole incident.
After the meeting was over Lew minced no words.
“It seems that even those closest to our area, the Charlotte County Marine Advisory Committee among them, have a hard time determining the difference between proper stewardship of our resources and something akin to strip mining those resources with little or no regard to the consequences, both to the fishery environment and the economic impact to our entire area,” he said.
Lew has dealt with fallout from the two different types of tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass for a long time. When he and other chamber board members attended area fishing and boating shows on both Florida coasts, they were offering free trips to fish in our waters. People were turning him down in rather large numbers, saying, “Oh, I’ve seen that place on television. That place is a circus!”
It’s easy to write off the ignorance of people from Texas, from Wyoming, even from Fort Lauderdale when it comes to Boca Grande fishing. But when it comes from within Charlotte County, and it comes from a group designated to protect, enhance and promote our marine environment, that’s just sad.
Couldn’t they pick up a newspaper in the last few years? Not just ours, but even the Sun Herald’s Waterline? Again, if you know you’re going to be presented with an issue that requires handing out an amount of money, Google is your friend. Try it, you’ll like it.
The Marine Advisory Committee didn’t just ask for an argument for their rapid negative response, or a presentation proving them wrong. They just said NO.
Yes, in capital letters. Maybe even in italics.
“All in all, my experience exposed the ignorance of the Marine ‘Advisory’ Committee of the importance of widespread education and the confusion between responsible anglers (WRTT participants and others) and hot-dogging weekend warriors that like to kill fish for the sake of TV ratings,” Lew said.
Make sure you vote in the elections this November. Primarily, though, make sure you research who you’re voting for. That already puts you a step ahead of most of the people you’re electing.
Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon.
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