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Kevin Lollar, [email protected] 10:08 p.m. EDT October 1, 2014

Twelve environmentalists rallied Wednesday at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection office in Fort Myers to ask the agency to reject the sugar industry’s plan for a massive development in eastern Hendry County.

Under the Sugar Hill Sector Plan, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers would create a 67-square-mile city between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades; the development would include 18,000 residential units and 25 million square feet of commercial, industrial, office and retail buildings.

Among the concerns was that the development would hurt efforts to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

“If you live along the coast or along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, you know the impacts of lake releases; you can’t get away from it,” said Chris Costello, a Sierra Club spokeswoman. “The solution is clear. For decades, we’ve known we have to send the water from the lake south.”

After large rain events, water managers release huge amounts of nutrient-laden fresh water from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers; the nutrients cause massive micro- and macroalgal blooms that can kill fish and seagrass as well as fouling beaches. Read more at