This week, Fort Myers City Council settled a water pollution case with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after it was discovered that the city allowed raw sewage into nearby estuaries, including a sewage leak of more than 183,000 gallons into nearby Billy Creek and ultimately into the Caloosahatchee River. City officials agreed to spend $768,000 on environmental upgrades to settle the complaint and avoid $500,000 in fines.
The incident triggered a raucous debate over how such spills have been handled, with city leaders accusing the city’s management staff of providing misleading data – including water samples from clean sources – in order to hide the fact that the sewage leak had infiltrated nearby waterways.
It’s just the sort of environmental cover-up that would normally spur clean water activist groups into action. But so far, the state’s most vocal environmental activist group, Captains for Clean Water, hasn’t just been silent, the group has simply refused to acknowledge that the leak ever happened.
The silence hasn’t gone unnoticed. Farmers in the area, often the target of Captains for Clean Water activism, have pointed out that Captains for Clean Water Executive Director Daniel Andrews claims to have founded the organization because of pollution damaging the ecosystem in the area.
Others note that the group seems more focused on politics than pollution.
“It seems suspicious that Captains for Clean Water would stay silent on an issue this big impacting our local water quality,” said Michael Thompson, President of the East Lee County Republicans. “The Captains seem only interested in talking about clean water when they are blaming Lake Okeechobee or raising money. I guess it’s easier to point the finger at someone else rather than fix the problem.”
Even a recent blog post on the Captains for Clean Water website underscores the fact that they should be concerned about raw sewage leaks and a potential cover up. On the group’s five year anniversary of its founding, which came just this month, Andrews posted one of the reasons he says he launched the group:
The estuaries of South Florida have suffered tremendously due to deliberate water mismanagement in the Greater Everglades. I couldn’t stand to see this go on any longer, and I saw an opportunity to make a difference. Every day I am humbled by the opportunities that are presented to us, and thankful for the incredible support we have gathered in such a short time.
The group did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story. They did, however, take reporters out on a boat tour of the Caloosahatchee River on Wednesday, never mentioning the raw sewage spill nor its impact on the river.
Captains for Clean Water have previously faced allegations that they are little more than a political front group pushing an anti-agriculture agenda. In 2019, in the midst of a massive algae bloom crisis caused by fecal bacteria leaking from nearby septic tanks, the group’s leadership, including Andrews, remained silent, but were photographed at a posh Washington D.C. hotel, partying with lobbyists and political officials.