In September 2020, Carlos Gimenez was running for Congress when he visited the flooded Twin Lakes neighborhood in Key Largo with his wife, Lourdes, at the invitation of neighborhood resident and activist Stephanie Russo. Afterward, his staff had to wash the saltwater from their cars.

“We saw for ourselves what they are subject to,” Gimenez, who a few weeks later won election to the U.S. House, told Keys Weekly. “I can see where the homeowners are being affected, and we need to take care of it. I’m happy it made this first step. It’s good news.”

Monroe County’s $5.4 million community project funding request, also known as “an earmark,” for the Twin Lakes flooding mitigation project is in a bill before the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. 

“We still have a ways to go, but this is a significant step,” said Lisa Tennyson, director of legislative affairs for the county.

She explained the next steps that have to happen before the $5,484,300 is in the county’s hands and the engineering project can begin.

“The House has to pass a bill, then the Senate. If the passed bills are different, they have to be conferenced. Then that is a bill that goes on to pass and gets the President’s signature,” Tennyson said.

To make matters more nail-biting, “earmarks” are a controversial topic for many politicians, as they are seen as profligate spending.

Gimenez wanted to give hope to Twin Lakes residents. 

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“We will keep them updated as to the progress of the appropriations. Bill making is like sausage making, right? We will keep on top of this and press this. And we have friends who will help this cause at this point,” he explained. “We have friends on the Senate side. Hopefully that’ll help us.”

He also wanted to thank Lucille Roybal-Allard, subcommittee chair, and ranking member Chuck Fleischmann for their inclusion of the Twin Lakes project on the bill.

In turn, Twin Lakes resident and activist Stephanie Russo acknowledged the congressman’s role in this project.

“We are grateful for Rep. Gimenez’s recognition of Twin Lakes as one of the most impacted and vulnerable neighborhoods in Monroe County for sea level rise in urgent need of FEMA’s attention,” said Russo. “The county and Rep. Gimenez have worked hard in support of this earmark request in the House’s Homeland Security appropriations bill. This is only the first step though. We hope FEMA Administrator Hon. Deanne Criswell takes him up on the request to meet with us, see firsthand our northern Keys neighborhoods and work together to help provide funding to improve this dire situation through BRIC (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) or other programs. ”

Per Gimenez’s paperwork submitted for the bill, “The project in the Twin Lakes Subdivision of Key Largo will mitigate 4,633 linear feet of county roadways and construct a ‘pump and treat’ storm water drainage system including construction of drainage structures, wet wells, pollution treatment device, and a related elevated pump station. This strategic investment will minimize risk and reduce losses along three roads in the community, Shaw Drive, Crane Street and Adams Drive. … 123 of 233 homes – almost 54 percent – that will be protected by the Twin Lakes project are estimated to be low to moderate income.”

The total cost of the project will be $7,312,399. The county is required to match 25% at $1,828,100, leaving the federal request at $5,484,299.

“We are not in control of this process. We’ll follow the appropriations process through the summer,” said Tennyson. “But every step we make in this process is significant.”

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Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.