Genetically modified mosquitoes, changes to the sanctuary's management plan and flood insurance rates top the list of hot-button issues Congressman Carlos Curbelo will hear about when he begins his action-packed tour of the Florida Keys today.
U.S. Rep. Curbelo, R-Fla, has packed in 10 meetings with fishermen, business leaders and government agencies in the next two days.
"This is probably the most intense agenda of a Florida Keys trip," Curbelo said Tuesday.
Curbelo will start his day flying, via a mosquito control helicopter, from Marathon to Key West, which will give him the opportunity to see the neighborhood where a proposed test release of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes could take place this year.
The release has garnered a lot of scrutiny both locally and internationally, with several groups voicing opposition.
"We are just starting to hear about it," said Nicole Rapanos, Curbelo's aide in the Keys. "We received two phone calls about it yesterday. I knew about it because I am down here. I know it's something we will start to hear more about."
Mosquito control and the British bio-tech company Oxitec has proposed to conduct a test release of the genetically modified mosquitoes in Key Haven. The agencies are still awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Oxitec has developed a way to genetically modify male mosquitoes to make them "sterile," so when they are released and mate with female mosquitoes in the wild, the offspring die in the larval stage.
Curbelo also will meet separately with both the Key West Charter Boats Association and the Key West Chamber of Commerce. The groups have been at odds recently with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary about possible changes to the sanctuary's management plan, which could include more closed fishing areas.
The groups have not been shy about their opposition and successfully lobbied the Key West City Commission to pass a resolution opposing any new closed areas.
"I am sure it will be a topic of conversation," Key West Chamber Executive Vice President Virginia Panico said.
Curbelo is aware of the concerns of the chamber and the fishermen about the review of the sanctuary's management plan, but he has focused more attention on changes to the management plan for Biscayne National Park. That plan is closer to being finalized and calls for more closed fishing areas, he said.
"I support finding a healthy balance and something that will not negatively effect people's livelihoods," Curbelo said.
Panico also expects the chamber board will ask Curbelo about flood insurance rates for those covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, which has oversight by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Florida Keys and other coastal areas have been hit with a series of rate increases in recent years. Curbelo is a sponsor of legislation that would limit those increases.
"There is no doubt that we will talk about that as well," Panico said.
In addition, Curbelo plans to meet with military officials, Florida Keys Community College and Keys Energy Services staff and representatives from the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce.