By Alisha McDarris
For Hometown News
TREASURE COAST -- Despite the national government shutdown, local politicians made headway in Washington D.C. last week in the fight to save Florida waterways.
A group of Martin County commissioners, staff and residents trekked up to the nation's capital with politicians and individuals from 16 other Florida counties that comprise the South Florida Water Management District. They met with members of Congress and demanded attention be paid to local rivers and estuaries.
Twenty-two members of Congress showed up for the briefing co-hosted by Patrick Murphy, an incredibly high number according to Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith who was among the group that presented in D.C.
Mr. Smith believes the government shutdown may have even aided their cause as members of Congress were not preoccupied with as many meetings and hearings as they normally would have been and so were able to attend.
"It was over the top amazing," Mr. Smith said. In 13 years of traveling to D.C. to speak up for various issues he's never seen such an enthusiastic response from politicians.
Doug and Kate Parmlee, from the Martin County administration office, were both thrilled by the level of acceptance and support by the local community. At least 100 river advocates drove north for the briefing to support their message.
Even House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson were present at the briefing that was so packed it afforded standing room only.
"It was very powerful," Ms. Parmlee said.
Part of that power came from the unified front the advocates presented. Mr. Smith said it's not often that 16 counties representing nearly eight million people come together with a single mission to fight for what they want.
"That's a significant block of people that you can't dismiss as irrelevant," Mr. Smith said.
The group asked for four things from the government: to complete the C-44 and Kissimmee River Restoration projects, fix the Herbert Hoover Dike, and authorize the 2013 Water Resources and Reform Development Act which include the C-43 project.
He's certain it was the strong united message the group presented that attracted attention and ultimately got the projects moving in the right direction. If all goes well, it will be discussed in the House in 2-3 weeks according to Mr. Smith.
"The challenge for us all now is to keep the pressure on," Mr. Smith said. The politicians were receptive to the ideas, but, "It's up to us as a community to make them follow through."
He suggests communicating frequently with Florida delegation and sharing with them the community's support. He also cited social media as a beneficial way to keep up with what's happening and spread the word that South Florida isn't backing down.
Last week marked a milestone in the effort to clean up local waterways, but there's still a long way to go in what will probably be a 20-year process.
Mr. Smith compared it to halftime at the Super Bowl. The game has begun but it's time to fight, break out a winning strategy, and finish strong.
"It's our time to get it fixed and get it righted," Mr. Smith said. "We can do it but we've got to stay focused."