Relief could be coming for some South Florida small businesses impacted by the Lake Okeechobee discharges.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott activated Florida’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program for more than 100 businesses affected by the releases. The move comes after theFlorida Department of Economic Opportunity conducted a survey to assess the economic damages in Lee, Martin and St. Lucie counties.
“I’m committed to ensuring all those affected by the federal government’s releases from Lake Okeechobee can quickly recover so families and businesses can move forward,” said Scott in a statement Thursday. “Small businesses have an incredible impact on our communities, and it is important that we provide the necessary tools for them to continue growing and doing business.”
In February, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it planned to maximize flows from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. At the time of the announcement, the lake was at 16.25 feet, the highest it had been since December 2005.
On March 10, the Army Corps of Engineers said the lake was at 15.58 feet.
Residents and business owners on both coasts have expressed frustration with the discharges. The discharges often result in murky water, and the latest round came at the height of the region’s tourist season.
“There is something different about this. It is killing my town,” Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda said during a February meeting in Fort Myers with Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep.Curt Clawson about the discharges.
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan is a short-term, interest-free, working capital loan intended to “bridge the gap” between the time a major catastrophe hits and when a business secures long-term recovery resources. It isn’t designed to be a primary source of assistance for impacted businesses.
“Small businesses are the backbone of Florida’s thriving economy, and it is critical that businesses supporting South Florida communities have tools they need to recover quickly,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “By activating the emergency bridge loan program, DEO is helping local businesses to get back on their feet.”
The application period for loans to eligible small businesses runs through April 30.