Today's Letters: We need drought to wake up our leaders to crisis

Published May 7, 2007

Miles of muck April 29, story  

I am sorry for the plight of the water-related businesses around Lake Okeechobee. However, I pray for drought every day. You might regard this as strange behavior for a water activist in Central Florida, but drought is the only way to capture the attention of elected officials at the state and local levels about Florida's looming water crisis.

Our water management districts have been asleep at the wheel for too long. How do we know this? By the millions, indeed billions, of taxpayer dollars that are needed to restore the Everglades, the Peace River, the Tampa Bay Estuary, the Ocklawaha River, etc. Our water management districts have become weapons of mass destruction in the hands of greedy developers and complicit politicians who will not stop until every acre of Florida is developed.

At the turn of the 20th century, when New York state faced an exploding population, it set aside 5-million acres in the Adirondacks as a protected source of drinking water for future generations. Florida has fewer than 3-million acres under public domain. We are fast approaching the same population levels of New York state. Where and how can we save 2-million or 3-million acres from development so that our aquifer can be replenished? If you do not protect the lands over the aquifer, you can't protect the aquifer. The situation at Lake Okeechobee is only the beginning.

In the meantime, I am going to continue to pray for more drought until our public officials wake up and take notice.

Carol Hewett, Palm Harbor

Address impacts

Last fall I visited Lake Okeechobee about 10 or 12 times and I can tell you that much of the water was drained out of the lake after the hurricane season was essentially over, until about the end of December.

The South Florida Water Management District has an agenda for the lake that includes a major drawdown, for reasons other than hurricanes.

As the Times cogently points out, the drawdown causes a significant financial impact to the lake area. It also causes impacts to the flora and fauna, and the lake environment.

The water management districts should be required to file impact statements addressing these issues.

Richard Kimbrough, St. Petersburg

Mental health helps us all

The Virginia Tech shooter should not paint a broad brush over those who live with mental health challenges. We need to understand him and if he suffered a true mental illness or some other problem.

Questions about dealing with such a person with prior signs of trouble also need attention. But people with mental health challenges are no more violent, as a group, than the rest of our population.

May is Mental Health Month. Mental Health America of Greater Tampa Bay celebrates by showing that mental health embodies essential humane, social and financial issues affecting everyone. Our watchword is "Bring Wellness Home!"

The media have to show enlightened restraint in reporting incidents such as the Virginia Tech shootings. They are human misfortunes, not "sweeps-week opportunities."

Media attention should be on the millions of Americans needlessly and quietly suffering mental illnesses. The World Health Organization and the World Bank list five mental illnesses in the top 10 diseases causing global burden.

Our surgeon general reports that mental illness affects at least 10 percent of Americans. Data are clear that American business can save billions when mental illnesses get proper diagnosis and care. Media coverage of these truths saves lives rather than only reporting deaths.

We share the grief of the wonderful Virginia Tech community. The grief must also be reduced in the daily lives of those who quietly suffer alone, hoping for a welcoming hand guiding them to proper care and support.

This May, Mental Health Month can be a new start and a suitable tribute to the innocent victims of the horrible tragedy in Virginia.

Scott F. Barnett, J.D., LL.M., executive director, Mental Health America of Greater Tampa Bay, Tampa

Beyond limits

Physicist Stephen Hawking not only made a personal dream come true with his zero-gravity flight on April 26, but he also demonstrated for America's 25-million disabled citizens that neurological disorders don't automatically close the door on active, fulfilling lifestyles.

The challenge for people with disabilities is knowing where to look for practical, commonsense information to help them live their lives to the fullest, whether coping with a neurological disorder or returning home from Iraq in a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury.

Since becoming paralyzed from the chest down in an auto accident, I have committed the past 15 years to helping people with disabilities to live better lives. My family and I founded the nonprofit organization Stand Among Friends, which in turn created the Center for the Study of Neurological Disabilities. The center, which opened in 2006 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, focuses on providing practical research for people with neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and ALS, commonly know as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Professor Hawking's triumph, despite his paralysis from ALS, confirms that people with disabilities can enjoy full and sometimes exhilarating lives.

Shawn A. Friedkin, president, Stand Among Friends Inc., Boca Raton

No insurance relief

What happened to the homeowners insurance reforms that were supposed to help the people of this state?

I watched the Florida government channel during the special session of the Legislature in January and saw reforms voted for and approved. But to look at the renewal bill I got the other day from Citizens Property Insurance, there have been no reforms put into practice to help me or anyone else I know for that matter.

According to my insurance agent's office, there isn't going to be any relief either. Not this year.

Now there is little talk of insurance in the news. It is all about the rich people and their high tax bills.

And our leaders can't understand why so few people vote.

Carol Booth, Holiday

FCAT reading scores drop

Testing and tears

As an 11th grade reading teacher I was faced with a difficult challenge the other day: telling my students who have worked all year to prove everyone wrong that they did not pass the FCAT - again.

These students face the possibility of not graduating based on this "valuable" standardized test.

These students come to me with a chip on their shoulders. They are told they are "stupid" and "dumb" by their peers and, sadly enough, sometimes by the actions of their teachers.

I have spent all year extinguishing these preconceived stereotypes and negative emotions. Students who came to me beaten and reluctant grew into confident, capable young men and women. They found that believing in themselves and having a teacher who refuses anything less than their best effort can help them succeed.

Then in 30 seconds, the state diminished their confidence again. In 30 seconds, the state told my students, "You are not good enough." In 30 seconds, the state took away their desire to read recreationally. In 30 seconds, the state took away my students' desire to try.

My students were told that progress, growth and good grades don't matter. The sliding scale of a standardized test does. When a politician stands in my classroom and watches frustration and tears wash down the cheeks of my hardworking, capable students, then they can tell me the value of a test.

Danielle Zinna, New Port Richey

On paper benefits

I think every senior citizen should get a paper delivered. I look forward every morning to my St. Petersburg Times and the Wall Street Journal. I sit and enjoy my cup of coffee. I read everything - ads, letters, news, obits. You can't get everything on television.

And if my neighbors do not pick up their papers, something might be wrong - so I check on them.

So, seniors, spring and get the Times. It is a wonderful gift - "to read." If you can't, something may be wrong with your eyes, and you can get to the eye doctor. Your newspaper is so valuable. I am not an employee - I am a "reader."

Eileen M. Albanese, South Pasadena