With the Presidential Republican Nomination starting to heat up with Newt Gingrich I thought I would finally post some photos that I shot for the Associated Press on November 25 th, 2011. When his campagin started to heat up and really gain a lot attention. In this town hall meeting he and his wife Callista shake hands with supporters at the Naples Hilton. Mr. Gingrich took sometime to defended his stance on immigration. All and all I photographed the candidate Friday night and Saturday morning at a book signing event in Naples at the Mercato’s Books-A-Million which was a well attended event.
Battling for Governor
Shooting a close race in the Sunshine State
I had a great opportunity recently to shoot both Florida Gubernatorial Republican Candidates before the primaries in July and September. I first shot Florida Attorney General Bill McCullom followed by Naples businessman Rick Scott for AP the day of the primary. Both had the same platform, for the most part, but there was a certain excitement that came the Scott campaign that was not matched by McCullom’s. It was interesting to compare the two campaigns as one seemed very vibrant and the other more low key. All in al each assignment had there unique challenges. Both were very quick with limited access, so photos needed to be shot quickly and cross your fingers you get a good moment. Ultimately Mr. Scott won that race but fortunately I was able to get several good photos that ran across the country.
THE CHANGING FACE OF CUBA
From a schoolteacher in Las Terrazas to a professor from Southwest Florida, from a flower vendor in Havana to a businessman from Naples, the common citizens of Cuba and the United States are forging friendships while their governments remain at odds
STORY BY RALF KIRCHER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIK KELLAR
A YELLOW THREE-LEGGED DOG AWOKE as witness to international politics hitting home.
On an early Sunday morning in mid- November, near the entrance of the provincial airport of Cienfuegos in south central Cuba, a crowd gathered in the warming sun. Diesel fumes, cigarette smoke, heat, sweat, the clatter of luggage carts on rough asphalt and the blare of musical notes from two tinny sets of speakers playing competing songs thickened the still air.
Fathers, mothers, children, police officers, baggage handlers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts and cousins milled about on foot, several in wheel- chairs. They were standing, pacing, driving up quick- ly, sitting below shade tents next to trailers that sold Buccanero beer, Hollywood brand cigarettes, Havana Club rum.
It was here among the families hugging their good- byes the effects of two countries at odds politically for more than 40 years were reduced to a personal level.
Here were tears of joy and excitement for those Cubans lucky enough to win the lottery to secure visas to visit family in the United States. Here were tears of division from families saying so long to loved ones who had fled the communist regime of Fidel Castro and had been able to return, however briefly, for a rare visit. And here were tears of drunken mourning from a father who lived in Key West who had come home for the funeral of his son.
At this entrance to the airport in Cienfuegos an awakened yellow three-legged dog who had seen it all before quickly tired of the scene and loped off in his own direction.
No quick fix to Lake Okeechobee’s water problems
By Kate Spinner
Managing water in South Florida is like trying to make all sides of a Rubik’s Cube match.
That’s how Col. Robert Carpenter, head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, describes the problem with water flow and pollution in Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, the Kissimmee River and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
People flock to South Florida because of the climate, but without the artificial controls woven into the landscape over the past 100 years, this Eden would be swamped in the summer and raging with fire in the winter. Taming the environment made modern settlement in South Florida possible, but it exacerbated the extremes for the plants and animals that had adapted to the fluctuations.
Creating a system that works for flood control and restoring the habitat of the ecosystem will take a balancing act that will feature birds and fish, dairy cows and sugar cane, conservation groups and agribusiness corporations. It also will involve more than $11 billion and a lot of patience.
Summers send floodwaters rushing across the grime-soaked pavement of Orlando and the manure-sodden farm fields of Okeechobee and Highlands counties, sweeping pollutants directly into the straightened Kissimmee River. The soiled water rushes into Lake Okeechobee and the lake rises within the confines of the Herbert Hoover Dike.
To avoid dike failure, the Army Corps lifts the lake’s spillways to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and dirty water gushes to the east and west coast estuaries.
When Carpenter explains how government agencies are trying to change water flow in South Florida to stop harming the estuaries and the Everglades, he says the system is broken. But the system of canals, levees and pumps has not stopped working as it was intended to work.
The system’s dependence on storing water in the lake during the dry season and moving water quickly in the wet season has brought about unforeseen consequences. At the same time, the needs of South Floridians have changed. The growing population requires more water for taps and crops and the population also demands healthy habitat for everything from blue crabs and manatees to apple snails and largemouth bass.
Agencies are now looking outside the lake to replicate the water storage that drainage projects removed and to an array of treatment marshes to clean the water of sediments and fertilizers.
Susan Gray, head of the Lake Okeechobee division for South Florida Water Management District, said studies are also under way to evaluate whether to remove 300 million cubic yards of phosphorus-laden mud that has accumulated on the lake’s bottom since the dike’s construction.
More mud started to enter the lake after the Army Corps finished straightening the Kissimmee River, in the process destroying 27,000 acres of marshlands that had provided water filtration and water storage. To create the Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake, about 700,000 acres of sawgrass marshes were drained.
Marshes retain water much longer than drained agricultural lands and paved surfaces and the grasses help filter polluted water. Before drainage projects nearly eliminated South Florida’s water storage capacity, water flowed year-round through wetlands that ranged from the Kissimmee chain of lakes to Florida Bay.
Last July, releases jumped to as high as 70,000 gallons per second. After Hurricane Wilma, the lake rose to 17.1 feet and the Army Corps released about 48,000 gallons per second for more than two months.
This year the agency is following the same course of action as last year and the year before. Only this year, the corps and the water management district are less optimistic that the lake will drop to 14 feet by May 1.
Standing in the blazing heat on Okeechobee Beach in October, Gov. Jeb Bush announced a $200 million plan to help Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries. Most of the projects he outlined weren’t new. They were part of the $10.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP.
A year earlier, the water management district gave a similar boost to the restoration plan. The district called its plans Acceler8.
These programs, which include building water storage reservoirs along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, building and expanding stormwater treatment areas, back-filling unnecessary canals in the Everglades, strengthening pollution laws and altering the water regulation schedule, are the state’s way of moving forward with – and in some cases adding onto – the plan to restore the Everglades.
The federal government and the state agreed to split the cost of the restoration plan when it was passed in 2000, but the state has had to dig much deeper into its own coffers to start the work. The state has paid $1.5 billion toward restoration so far, while the federal government has pitched in $300 million, said Ernie Barnett, director of policy and legislation for the district.
The projects aim to add 1.7 billion gallons a day of storage back into the Greater Everglades system through the construction of reservoirs and by injecting water deep into the earth. The additional storage is supposed to help water managers reduce flows to the estuaries and keep the lake no higher than 15 feet by the end of the wet season and no lower than 12 feet by the end of the dry season. A shallower lake will allow grassy fish habitat to grow back and reduce the need for emergency releases.
Part of Bush’s October announcement also coincided with the Lake Okeechobee Protection Plan, which calls for land management laws to reduce phosphorus run-off from farms and urban areas north of the lake.
Native plants and beneficial algae in Lake Okeechobee can use about 140 tons of phosphorus a year, but water spilling in from the northern watershed dumps about 500 tons of phosphorus into the lake a year. That means 350 tons are left over to sink to the mud or feed algae blooms and invasive plants such as cattails and torpedo grass. Making matters worse, an estimated 5,000 tons of phosphorus from fertilizer and animal waste are added to the watershed north of Lake Okeechobee every year, said Paul Gray of Aubudon.
To reduce pollution and the flow of water to the lake, the governor, the Army Corps and the district are focusing attention north of the lake.
The Kissimmee River Restoration Project, for instance, is now in progress and will return 27,000 acres of marsh and 82 miles of bends and eddies to the river that once meandered for 103 miles.
“If we don’t capture that water north of the lake and treat it north of the lake, we will continue to have high water flows and dirty water flows,” said Susan Gray.
Will the plans work?
Critics of restoration plans say the project, which is unprecedented in scope worldwide, still isn’t big enough.
The Audubon Society suggests tripling the amount of water storage the plan calls for in the Everglades Agricultural Area, from 360,000 acre-feet to 1 million acre-feet.
Paul Gray also said more storage needs to be built north of the lake.
North of the lake, current restoration plans would add seven inches of water storage to the basin.
“During the hurricanes last summer, the lake rose 5.5 feet. So if you store seven inches of that, big deal,” Gray said. “We need to store two feet of water north of Okeechobee, not just seven inches.”
If farmers in the 4,000-square mile northern watershed all set aside about 3 percent of their property for small ponds or reservoirs, Audubon estimates 400,000 acre-feet of water storage could be added north of the lake.
Environmental groups also criticize restoration plans for relying on Aquifer Storage and Recovery, which involves injecting excess water deep into the earth for later use. About a third of the plan’s water storage depends on such technology.
To increase sheet flow to the Everglades, which would also divert excessive water flows from the estuaries, the Sierra Club is urging the Army Corps to elevate 11 miles of the Tamiami Trail. Current plans call for a 1-mile bridge and a 2-mile bridge.
Additionally, only about half of the needed land has been purchased.
Meanwhile, land costs are rising and the need to buy more land than anticipated is growing more apparent.
The challenges and the waiting has caused some of the people who have been working on restoration for years to lose their optimism.
Herb Zebuth, a former Department of Environmental Protection scientist who worked on formulating the Everglades restoration plan, said efforts still cater too much to monied businesses, such as agriculture.
“You need to have statesmen, instead of politicians, that can’t think further than their next campaign and the funds they need to win it, and how you get those people, I don’t know,” Zebuth said. “I blame the people of Florida that they haven’t risen up in outrage that this crime against the environment has gone on for decades.”
Wayne Nelson, head of Fishermen Against the Destruction of the Environment, has been working for two decades to save Lake Okeechobee.
He said there have been too many failed plans and too many inaccurate studies for him to believe restoration will work.
“I don’t think we’re going to save the lake. I wouldn’t have said that two or three years ago, but I’ve been at this for 20 years now,” Nelson said. “Do I have hope that we can still save the lake? Yeah, I have hope. But there’s a lot of difference between hope and belief.”
Data used to arrive at everything from the amount of phosphorus the lake can handle to the amount of water that can flow through the system has, at times, been questionable.
For instance, the first phosphorus standards for the lake were set too high because scientists failed to account for phosphorus already present in the lake’s mud bottom.
Now water calculations are under fire because most of the years used in the modeling for the Army Corp’s water regulation schedule fell during a cycle of dry weather.
Despite criticism and pessimism, there are those who plug along with patience. The restoration plan, after all, is designed to be flexible as science and technology becomes more advanced.
Dennis Duke, restoration program manager for the Army Corps, said stormwater treatment areas were probably built to handle dry cycle flows. He suggested their capacity may need to be doubled and that canals will need to be widened to allow more water to travel south to the Everglades.
If the Corps determines such measures are necessary and cost effective, they can be fitted into the plan.
With that flexibility in mind, environmental groups are constantly chiming in on ways to make restoration plans better.
“I tell people we’re in a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve been messing this lake up for a century and it’s going to take decades to turn it around,” said Paul Gray.