Florida Keys News
Thursday, January 30, 2014
State funds trickle down
$50M designated for wastewater projects in Keys

The Florida Keys is on track to receive another $50 million in state funding for wastewater projects.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott released his proposed state budget for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year, which included the $50 million for the Keys' sewer projects. The budget, which Scott dubbed "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget," still has to be approved by the state Legislature.

"We are looking a lot better this year than we were last year," County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

Last year, Scott told the Keys that he would not include $50 million for wastewater because a bulk of the money was going to Key Largo and Marathon to pay down existing debt. Scott had made job creation one of his top priorities.

The prior year, Scott allocated $50 million to the Keys, with the bulk of that money going to Monroe County and Islamorada for new sewer projects.

In 2007, the state Legislature appropriated $200 million in wastewater and stormwater funding to the Keys, but the Keys did not receive the first $50 million until two years ago.

This year's funding plan calls for Marathon and Key Largo to receive roughly $17 million each. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the county would split $5 million. Islamorada would receive $7 million. Key West would receive about $3 million, and Key Colony Beach would receive $1 million.

Each year, the cities and county agree to a plan that switches the amounts, with some cities receiving more some years and less in other years.

The Key Largo Wastewater District plans to use the money for the installation of roughly 140 grinder-pump sewage collection systems, and to build a sludge-hauling system, district General Manager Margaret Blank has said.

Marathon city officials have said that the city has new projects well in excess of what the municipality would receive as part of the funding plan.

A contingent of Keys officials are planning to go to Tallahassee in February to meet with various elected officials about the importance of keeping the $50 million in the budget. The meeting is being coordinated by Florida Keys State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo.

"I want us to go up there and speak with one unified voice," Raschein said.

"There has been a recent shift in focus to water (quality) projects," Raschein added about the Legislature's priorities. "We have a prime water (quality) project here. This shows a dedication to environmental projects."

Scott also included $130 million for Everglades restoration projects and $19 million for state parks.

The funding of the Keys and Everglades projects was praised by the leaders of state environmental groups.

"With the funding for the Keys wastewater system, the governor has followed through on his commitment to protect Florida's coral reefs and marine ecosystems, a priority of The Nature Conservancy and important to protecting the economy and quality of life of the Florida Keys, said Shelly Lakly, director of the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

tohara@keysnews.com

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