NAPLES — On a warm evening in Naples, residents and economists gathered inside Hodges University to discuss the economic impact of the Everglades restoration on the economy of Southwest Florida. The panel discussion appropriately titled, “What’s the Everglades Worth to You?,” highlighted the essential financial value of restoring the fragile ecosystem known as America’s only Everglades.
For Longshore Lakes resident, Sally Kirk, the free public meeting presented facts about a resource near and dear to her community association – water. “I’m on the Board of Longshore Lake, and I’m very interested in protecting our groundwater to protect the Gulf and the Everglades. I’ve written letters to the editor, and we just initiated a fertilizer ordinance. Since the fertilizer ordinance went into effect, we’ve noticed a significant drop in our algae in our lakes.”
Speakers at the event included Bobby McCormick, Ph.D., the Principal Investigator for an economic impact study on Florida Everglades, from Mather Economics. He discussed the results of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, also known as CERP.
McCormick was introduced by the moderator of the event, Andrew D.W. Hill, Chief Financial Officer of Andrew Hill Investment Advisors. Members of the public were welcomed to the free informational seminar by Terry P. McMahon, President of Hodges University, and by Andrew McElwaine of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Touchstones McCormick presented included charts illustrating the groundwater purification process to ultimately reduce the salinity of groundwater, aquifer recharge, residential real estate impacts, recreation impacts, water quality, recreation, tourism and open space benefits, totaling four dollars in economic benefits for every one dollar invested in the restoration of the Everglades.
Public-private partnership benefits in restoring the Everglades, and conservation efforts within business were also highlighted by Matthew Raffenberg, Manager of Environmental Licensing for Florida Power and Light. He cited the 13,000 acre Miami-Dade Everglades Restoration Project as an recent example of a successful improvement of natural ecosystem.
“The world is watching what we are doing here,” explained Jack Wert, executive director of the Tourism Development Council of Collier County, of the impact of the Everglades on tourism in Southwest Florida. “We simply cannot fail, and we need to continue to improve the product we offer.”
With about 40 percent of the visitors arriving to Collier County seeking eco-tourism, Wert emphasized the need for pre-planning before visitors get to Collier County. “We make sure that they know about things such as the Everglades before the get there,” Wert said, pointing to the inclusion of the Everglades in tourism branding for the Southwest Florida area.
Additionally, Jerry Karnas, with Everglades Foundation was on hand to answer questions following the presentations of the evening. “Our primary goal is to help folks understand that even in tough economic times and tight budgets, that dollars spent on the Everglades are dollars well spent. It’s a four to one return on investment to the American taxpayer,” Karnas explained.
Job creation was another impact that Karnas suggested as an example of benefits from Everglades restoration. “These projects create private sector jobs, and during the legislative session there was a 60 percent decrease in State Everglades funding, which is down from last year. This presentation today shows that this cut is not a wise choice for taxpayers”
“The presenters made it clear that the health of the Everglades is essential to the economy of Southwest Florida,” quipped Naples resident Jeannette Showalter of the recent Everglades Foundation presentation.
To Learn More about the Everglades Foundation go to: www.evergladesfoundation.org
To Learn More about protecting Florida’s unique environment and how you can protect it, go to: www.conservancy.org.