Hurricane Harvey and the plight of Texans who suffered the worst brunt of the storm have a special place in the heart of Glades residents. They can identify.
Repairs to the aging earthen Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD) are years away from completion. And as news of the breach to the Addicks Reservoir 19 miles west of Houston came over the news on Tuesday, Glades folks once again held their breath.
The Texas reservoir, though not a lake, functions a lot like Lake Okeechobee. It overtopped its spillway, sending an "uncontrolled release" of Harvey's floodwaters into nearby neighborhoods that may be underwater for weeks. Residents had to leave fast, many by airlift.
Every hurricane season the citizens of Clewiston, Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay pray they won't be hit head-on by a big, wet, slow-moving storm like Harvey. They know they're vulnerable. Living as they do in the shadow of the HHD, they don't feel safe -- and say they won't until the dike that separates their communities from Lake Okeechobee is repaired.
Tammy Jackson-Moore, representing the nonprofit Guardians of the Glades, says the safety of communities around the lake are always on her mind -- but after Harvey, her concern is "working overtime."
"That can happen right here in our own backyards, so that's why we are fighting. That's why we're constantly advocating for funding to make certain that this particular dike is strong," Jackson-Moore told WPTV in West Palm Beach.
Gov. Rick Scott's timing, though coincidental, was impeccable to calm Glades residents. He arrived in Palm Beach County on Tuesday to announce a business expansion -- but at the very moment Harvey was doing its worst, made one of his first orders of business assuring Glades residents he understood their state of mind.
Scott said the Texas flooding “just shows you the importance of (the need to repair the dike around Lake O). We have thousands of people who live south of the dike ...”
"He was very comforting," said Miriam Washington, a Clewiston resident. "Just to know we aren't being forgotten, and the promise he made to us is still important to him."
In June, during a visit to South Florida Water Management District headquarters in West Palm Beach, Scott drew particular attention to $50 million in the $83 billion state budget he hopes will “jump start” a $930 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to complete repairs of the dike around Lake Okeechobee by 2022 instead of 2025, as the Army Corps of Engineers originally planned.
“Under President Obama, I kept asking for help with the dike and we didn’t get anywhere,” Scott told reporters during his June West Palm visit. “President Trump has committed to being a partner. He’s going to make sure we get that dike finished. My goal is to get the dike finished by 2022.”
Another group of Glades residents, EAA Farmers, issued a written statement Friday.
"Farmers know firsthand just how unpredictable Mother Nature can be," the statement reads. "We send our prayers to those affected by Hurricane Harvey and are reminded that, in Florida, we can’t ignore the lessons that come from communities inundated by Harvey’s flood waters. Hurricane Harvey is a reminder of Florida’s critical need to complete repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike, which protects thousands of people around Lake Okeechobee and across South Florida.
"Expediting repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike will ensure the health and safety of all those who live in the farming communities south of Lake Okeechobee. Please support efforts to finish dike repairs for the health and safety of our communities."
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith