hurricane house

AP file photo

This post-hurricane scene from Mexico Beach in the Florida panhandle could be replicated in Southwest Florida. Beachfront construction is at great risk from storms.

I was recently accused of being negative. I’m not a negative person by nature. However, the facts are negative, and we do have problems to address. Taking for granted that everything will work itself out was OK about 20 million residents ago, but it’s not working anymore.

Up until now, our growth has been a huge benefit to our economy. If we want to maintain that economy, it’s time to look at how to keep up our quality of life. Sustainability needs to be our focus now.

Last year’s water quality problems shook us all up. I’m happy to see we are OK for the moment, but it won’t last unless we do something to resolve the root of the problems. Are we depending on someone else to fix our water issues? Who do you trust to do that? We must all educate ourselves and then contribute more to solutions than to pollution. We can each reduce our impact on the environments we need to save and enjoy.

On the surface, our waters seem fine to most right now. But take a closer look. We have way too many nutrients in our waters. Witness the red algae problems along Fort Myers Beach. This also happens in our local waters. Look at how our seagrasses are covered up right now by algae. The nutrients don’t show up in water testing because they are tied up in the algae. As algae dies, decomposition re-deposits those nutrients back into our waters.

Some ask how nutrients can be such a problem. At moderate levels, nutrients are good and feed plankton and grass. But excessive nutrients also feed algae blooms. Think about houseplants. A little fertilizer helps them grow luxuriantly. Too much burns them and can even kill. That’s what we’re doing to our coastal waters.

Another area to address: No one wants to talk about this but it is current and an expensive problem. A study by the University of Notre Dame found 62 percent of coastal homeowners are not considering any action to protect their homes from storms. This is scary, and it’s exactly what I’m concerned about with coastal development.

Beachfront sand is not stable. It’s going to move around! Folks come here and fall in love. They don’t understand the risks of beachfront ownership. It’s beautiful — until the storms come and take your beach, and maybe your house too.

Post-recovery efforts cost four to 10 times more for repairs than the protections. Folks depend on insurance and governments to fix their problems after damage. Why should everyone else fix your mistakes? More than 60 percent of those surveyed had neither protective covers nor impact-rated entry doors! Lack of education because we want to sell beach front properties is not good business. We all get stuck with billions of dollars in rebuilding, and it frequently happens repeatedly. Now you know why home insurance is so expensive in Florida.

If you choose to live on the open water beaches, you ought to accept responsibility for your risks. Look at the costs of beach renourishment as another example. Charlotte County will blow $30 million in November to pump silt-laden sand onto our beaches. How long will it stay? Take time to look at the numbers, but be sure you’re sitting down when you look.

They use the point that we need to protect the public beaches as a reason for this investment in our future. But if we had no beachfront developments, we would have plenty of sandy beaches for everyone to enjoy with far less cost and risk.

Our local beaches developments started blowing up in the ‘70s when developers realized they could buy beachfront land cheaper than bayfront, since the locals knew better than to build out there. Our beach lifestyle is extremely marketable, and winter visitors flocked in to enjoy our beautiful shores. Property values soared, and these taxes were liked by county commissions. Up and down our coast, not just here, they spent all “their” new wealth faster than it accumulated.

Property values increased so fast once I-75 was completed that locals were forced to sell out because they couldn’t afford the taxes. The out-of-town owners enjoyed 10 percent and higher appreciation on their new digs. On the surface, it seemed a dream for many (the winners, anyway), but locals continue to carry the burdens.

We don’t get involved enough. I watch our commission meetings and we rarely have public comments, partly because working folks can’t take off to go. Another big factor is we don’t get the respect we deserve for our opinions. Just watch any of the public comment opportunities. Judge for yourselves how much our public officials care.

These are important challenges that have gotten worse by most of us ignoring them. Please, before growth overwhelms us, understand that we need to focus on sustainability. More expensive problems are right around the corners lurking, and the ones we’ve already seen will be back to haunt us. I’m praying they’ll stay away for a while, but I can tell you now we haven’t seen the last of them.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or

Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or


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