Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spent the morning of Jan. 30 in Key West — or technically, on Stock Island — where he announced a $36 million grant for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to overhaul its water desalination plant on Stock Island.
Fifty or so city and county officials and administrators, utility executives and media representatives gathered at 11 a.m. at the water utility’s plant on Stock Island’s Front Street to hear from DeSantis as well as Ken Lawson, executive director of the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.
Lawson detailed the mission and successes of the Rebuild Florida program that aims to help Floridians rebuild or replace homes that were destroyed or severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
“We have more than $90 million coming to the Florida Keys through Rebuild Florida,” Lawson said. “We’ve secured $35 million for affordable workforce housing and we’re not finished yet. The bottom line is, stand by the governor. We’ll do things the right way to help Floridians recover from these storms.”
Lawson acknowledged some of the delays and frustrations “because of the federal government and a lot of red tape.”
In answering a few questions from local media outlets following the announcement, DeSantis said he had not yet decided whether he will veto a bill that would prevent municipalities like the city of Key West from banning the sale of certain types of sunscreen.
“I haven’t finished looking at the sunscreen bill, and I haven’t made a decision,” DeSantis said. ”We also have to look at the science behind it, and we want to be sure, from a public health standpoint, that we’re not sending a message saying not to use sunscreen.”
The governor last year supported Key West by vetoing a bill that would have prevented the city from banning single-use plastic straws. But the sunscreen bill could be different.
In other news…
The governor also announced that the City of Key West was awarded $1.7 million for wastewater pipeline repairs and that the City of Marathon was being awarded $6.2 million for wastewater pump station and chemical feed repairs.
Key West City Manager Greg Veliz said the city likely will use the money to repair the Fleming Key bridge and put utility lines underwater. The bridge has been besieged by boat strikes in the past year.
The majority of the money for Marathon — $2.9 million — will go toward a citywide monitoring system for vacuum stations. It will be a combination of hardware and software and put out to bid soon. As it stands now, if there is a problem with one of the vacuum stations, it is up to the resident to make a call to the utilities department.
“It will be proactive monitoring,” said Dan Saus, the city’s utility director. “We will know before you do that there is a problem. We can have a technician out there right away.”
An additional $1.5 million will be spent on equipment to filter out spikes in the electrical feed to the sewer plants. Saus said the machinery will “filter” brownouts and blackouts that can take a toll on the sewer system.
The rest of the grant will be spent on raising equipment out of the flood zone.
“This was a wish list of mitigation items we wanted,” Saus said. “With these improvements, Marathon will have the most advanced wastewater system that I have ever seen, or even know about.”
— Sara Matthis contributed to this report.