Runoff from an 18-hole golf course being developed by NBA hall of famer Michael Jordan reportedly was cited for polluting the St. Lucie River on Feb. 2, 2018. The course is being built on a 226-acre site in Hobe Sound, east of Interstate 95 and north of Bridge Road. HANNAH SCHWAB/TCPALM
Runoff from a golf course owned by basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan threatens several species of rare fish and possibly dolphin in the St. Lucie River, according to a marine biologist.
The company developing the golf course northwest of Hobe Sound, The Club in Vero Beach, was cited Friday by the South Florida Water Management District for violating state water quality standards.
Photos taken by district staffers show silt-laden water flowing off the construction site, through a canal and into the headwaters of the South Fork.
The plume of chocolate milk-colored water extended 3 to 4 miles to near the Kanner Highway Bridge, the photos show.
“It’s a shame that this happened to one of the most pristine parts of the St. Lucie River system,” said Zack Jud, education director at the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart. Before the pollution, that South Fork section is what the entire river used to look like “if you went back 200 years.”
There are 14 endangered and threatened species of fish in the South Fork, said Grant Gilmore, a Vero Beach marine biologist who’s studied fish in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie River since the early 1970s.
“They’re all going to be negatively impacted, and some could die, because of all that sediment in the water,” Gilmore said.
The sediment, Gilmore said, will cover up their food sources on the river bottom.
“They find food with their sense of smell,” he added, “and the sediment probably will mess with the smell of the water.”
The species include the possum pipe fish, mountain mullet, burrowing grunts and several types of gobies: violet (known locally as the dog-faced eel), slash-cheeked, black-eared and the bigmouth sleeper.
“These species are found nowhere else in the United States but the St. Lucie River, the Loxahatchee River and the Sebastian River,” Gilmore said. “They used to be down around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but they were pushed out by development.”
Gilmore is also concerned fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides from the farmland that’s being turned into a golf course might be coming into the water with the sediment.
“We know that those chemicals get into the food small fish eat,” he said, “and increases as bigger fish eat the smaller fish through a process we call bio-accumulation.”
At the top of the food chain are dolphins from the Indian River Lagoon that frequently venture into the lower South Fork.
“Because the St. Lucie River has so many problems already — the Lake Okeechobee discharges and pollution from all kinds of sources — a lot of species are just hanging on,” Gilmore said. “They sure don’t need another problem like this.”
Judd called the silt from the golf course “adding insult to injury to the St. Lucie River.”
TCPalm in October 2016 reported Jordan would be principal owner of the private club to be named Grove XXIII in honor of the No. 23 he wore when he won six NBA championships as a Chicago Bull.
The club will include an 18-hole golf course, driving range, 9,800-square-foot clubhouse and maintenance facilities, according to the developer’s application filed with Martin County.
The developer may have to clean up the mess, according to the violation notice issued by the water district.
“Once sediment is in the water, there’s really no way to get it out,” Judd said. “The best you can do is keep it from happening again.”
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