MARATHON -- County Commissioner George Neugent told the Marathon City Council last week that the Florida Keys could be a beneficiary of the Restore Act signed by President Obama last July.
The act directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP to be placed in a trust fund for restoration efforts in the five coastal states damaged by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"There is a distinct possibility" Monroe County will receive funds, along with 22 other counties, Neugent said. "The numbers are pretty big."
The funds can be used for a range of projects but the commissioner specifically sought the council's support for restoring the old Seven-Mile Bridge.
"I'd like you to endorse the effort," he said. He also asked the council to appoint a liaison on the project to ensure the town is kept in the loop.
"We don't want anyone to complain at the 11th hour because they were left out," the commissioner said.
Neugent asked for a "partnered effort with Marathon."
He said the extension of the county's one-cent infrastructure tax, which voters approved during the Nov. 6 election, combined with the BP settlement funds could "restore something that's so important to the Middle Keys and the city of Marathon."
If the bridge could be proclaimed a national monument, then federal funds would also be available for the project, he said.
Commenting on the future of Pigeon Key, Neugent said the historic island needs this project for its own survival.
Neugent asked the city to assist with communication regarding the restoration project through public service announcements "to bring in as many who want to participate."
Council members were supportive as a whole.
"We will be working with you," Mayor Mike Cinque said.
A restored bridge combined with Pigeon Key, Boot Key and Crane Point Hammock could create "an integrated park system to rival anything in the United States," Cinque said.