ISLAMORADA -- For the first time since 2010, the village is about to receive federal funding assistance for its wastewater project.
The town was informed that it would receive a $1.32 million grant in a March 7 email from Shelly Trulock of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, Key West will receive $678,000 for stormwater work. Islamorada's money will go toward the estimated $120 million ongoing sewer project, which must be complete by the end of 2015.
The federal grant comes out of the $100 million Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program, which Congress authorized in 2000. This year's $2 million distribution to the Keys still leaves $53 million to be funded through the act.
The Corps selected Islamorada for funds because the village in 2010 turned over a combined $5 million out of a $6.1 million federal disbursement to the city of Marathon and the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District. City officials at the time made the move because Islamorada had not yet begun its main sewer project and would have been unable to spend the money during that fiscal year, as was required.
Rather than allow the Corps to redistribute the funding to other parts of the country, Marathon, Islamorada, the Key Largo district and the Jacksonville Corps office struck a deal. Islamorada gave Marathon and Key Largo the unused $5 million with the understanding that the village would be made whole during future federal disbursements.
The pay-me-back is beginning with this disbursement. But should the Corps award grants in future years, the village has decided to split monies with Marathon and Key Largo - even though it hasn't yet gotten most of that $5 million back.
The move, said Mayor Ted Blackburn, would help secure the lobbying alliance of the three entities.
"We will get zero if we don't keep this coalition together," Blackburn told his colleagues at the March 13 council meeting.
Under the plan the council approved, the village would get 50 percent of future grants while Marathon and Key Largo would get 25 percent each.
In an interview last week, Marathon Interim Manager Mike Puto said the Middle Keys city appreciates the village's generosity.
"Very fair without a doubt," he said.
However, the plan did raise some concern on the Village Council.
"I don't mind sharing, but on the other hand, when do we get made whole?" Councilman Ken Philipson asked last Thursday.
Officials throughout the Keys are hoping for state wastewater assistance this year as well. Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal for 2014-15 allocates $17 million each to Key Largo and Marathon and $7 million to Islamorada. The formal budget, though, must be approved by the Florida Legislature during its ongoing spring session.
This story corrects errors in the print version of the article.