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Dear friend of One Martin,
My, how perspectives can change over time when truth-tellers refuse to sit down and be quiet.
We've seen it happen first hand, most recently in a shift in rhetoric by some major environmental groups. You may have noticed it, too.
Many now include water storage north of Lake Okeechobee, as well as in the south, as key to stopping discharges to the St. Lucie River, a call coming even from local environmental activist Mark Perry.
A short time ago, such a stand was considered environmental heresy.
And, my goodness, we've also seen an increase in calls for septic-to-sewer conversions along our waterways, even by Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard. Less than a decade ago, she raised eyebrows when she blocked the Loxahatchee River Environmental Control District in Jupiter from running sewer lines into Martin County to eliminate septic tanks in the protected Loxahatchee River watershed.
These days we can count on her to approve septic-to-sewer conversions.
Minds can change, eventually, if truth-tellers stay resolute and continue to speak up; however, it's often residents themselves becoming better educated about the science behind our water issues – because facts do not conveniently disappear – who push for that change.
Yes, it's a painfully slow process, but the results are evident.
We're fortunate that we have dozens of truth-tellers statewide, such as Dr. Wendy Higgins, the lead scientist for the University of Florida Water Institute's 2015 state-commissioned report on how to end Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St. Lucie River.
She never backed down on her recommendations for storage north of the lake, in addition to the south, despite intense political pressure at the time.
Others who also held their ground under hostile questioning during that tumultuous and highly political period between algal blooms on the St. Lucie River are former South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Barnett, retired Lt. Col. Jennifer Reynolds of the Army Corps of Engineers, now director of ecosystem restoration and capital projects at the South Florida Water Management District, and Martin County's former Manager of Ecosystem Restoration Deb Drum, now the director of ecosystem restoration management for Palm Beach County.
They stood out as much for HOW they responded to elected officials' and the public's questions – and accusations – as they did for their concise, thorough explanations. Their facts were firmly rooted in science, yet they remained receptive to hearing all stakeholders' theories and opinions, listening and responding kindly and honestly to their genuine concerns.
In other words, they earned widespread respect simply by treating others respectfully. We're convinced the way they conducted themselves in those contentious public forums gave their messages greater weight.
We've seen the same approach from local environmentalist Nyla Pipes, executive director of the One Florida Foundation, a grassroots advocacy for clean water statewide. Barely five feet tall, nearly disappearing behind the lectern, Pipes nonetheless speaks out, a truth-teller who offers scientific facts that invariably undermine whatever snappy slogan dominates the day.
When fire from professional environmental groups comes at her as a result, Pipes stands firm and remains calm.
“I tell myself there's nothing like a good crisis to raise donations, sell T-shirts and even advertising,” she says. “It's a waste of energy to get angry … I realize it's in their best interest to fan the flames of public discontent with misrepresentation and, at times, downright lies.
"It just makes me more determined to keep doing what I'm doing.”
What Pipes and One Florida are “doing” has earned statewide respect from scientists, state elected officials, environmental agencies, and concerned citizens by working in the trenches, in the mud, helping with projects that make a true difference, approaching water-quality issues with a solutions-based perspective, rather than blame-based.
Her Facebook comments often take the tone of the mother she is to remind us to fix those issues in our own backyards first, since they're attainable and just as vital to getting clean water as any major project.
Her posts can turn into pages-long running debates with readers, dispelling myths, imparting facts, and sharpening opinions.
It's in that space that Pipes' experience in her native Washington as a seasoned environmental advocate in a decades-long fight against pollution flowing from Canada into Washington's rivers reveals itself most clearly.
Growing up in a small community near Spokane, buffeted by lawsuits over their use of septic tanks and surrounded by timbering, fishing, and farming, Pipes shows a first-hand understanding of the balance needed to protect livelihoods, as well as our natural resources and our food supply.
“The characters, the names and places are different,” she says, “but the water-quality issues are the same.”
We can learn from watching all these truth-tellers, leaders with the courage to step up and do what is right, not what is easy. They inspire us to continue to foster conversations with all stakeholders to solve Martin County's greatest challenges.
It's the best – perhaps the only – way that opposing sides can truly expand their knowledge. They listen and learn from each other, a goal of One Martin. We know it works. We've seen it first hand.