Keys representatives visit D.C. for funding - A man standing in front of a group of people posing for the camera - Luxury vehicle
Marathon Mayor John Bartus, Utilities Director Dan Saus and City Manager Chuck Lindsey travel to Washington, D.C. to secure funding for stormwater and wastewater infrastructure. CONTRIBUTED

It’s rare to see Florida Keys people, even elected officials, dressed up in suits and ties. But it’s not every day that a delegation of Florida Keys people ascends upon the nation’s capital to speak with senators, representatives and officials who can actually help us with local issues.

This particular well-dressed Keys delegation consisted of representatives from the City of Marathon, the Village of Islamorada, and the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District. We all went up to lobby for funding as partners under the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program (FKWQIP). This funding legislation originally passed in 2001, and the first actual money came out of Washington in 2003. Since then, approximately $63 million of the original $100 million authorization has made its way to the Keys to assist in construction and improvements on our wastewater treatment systems. (Key West, Layton, and Key Colony Beach got their funding early and are out of FKWQIP.)

Just because the enabling legislation is in place does not guarantee that there will be funding in any given year. This is why Keys delegations make the trek to D.C. every year to lobby our elected representatives and the federal officials who control the purse strings of FKWQIP.

The good news is that the federal government likes to fund successful projects. FKWQIP was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers upon passage back in 2001, and the funds received so far have gone toward the construction and improvement of the partners’ three successful wastewater systems. While much has been done, there is still work remaining on all three systems. The need for continued funding still exists, and all three partners have more projects and improvements ready to be funded.

This is good news where the Army Corps is concerned. Our Keys wastewater project is one of their shining success stories; when they have the authorization, the Army Corps has no problem with our continued funding requests.

Our new Representative, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has offered her complete support for FKWQIP funding. She has already spoken on Capitol Hill about how the Keys moved forward and achieved so much to meet this unfunded mandate. She knows that this funding helps protect America’s only living coral reef.

So do a number of Florida’s congressional delegation. Ft. Pierce’s Brian Mast… Naples’ Mario Diaz-Balart… Rep. Lois Frankel… Rep. Donna Shalala… Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. They all pledged their support of FKWQIP in the House of Representatives.

On the Senate side, Sen. Marco Rubio has already shown his support for this measure. While new to D.C., Sen. Rick Scott also understands the needs of Keys people and the environment. The Keys are fortunate to have support from a huge chunk of the entire Florida congressional delegation.

What helps us in Washington is that we speak with a united voice. I thank all who made the trip: Islamorada’s Mike Forster, Jim Mooney, Ken Davis and Roget Bryan; Key Largo Wastewater District’s Robby Majeska and Peter Rosasco; and my fellow Marathon officials, Chuck Lindsey and Dan Saus. We all went together and were a good team advocating for our collective needs. Each of our lobbyists helped coordinate our meetings and facilitated our trip; special thanks to Marathon’s federal lobbyist Rick Marks.

Washington, D.C. is truly an amazing place. From the halls of the Capitol and the House and Senate office buildings to the monuments and museums and living history, one feels humbled and awed by the institutions of our republic. It’s always an honor to represent Marathon in our nation’s capital, and I’m hopeful we did a good job representing you this year.

Time will tell. In the meantime, it’s good to reflect on the perspective and actions of our founders and those who came before us as we forge ahead with the issues that our governments face. The motto of Washington, D.C. is “Justitia Omnibus” — Justice for All. And that is all that any government can hope to achieve.

Hear John play: Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Fridays and Sundays at the Lighthouse Grill, Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn, and Mondays at the Sunset Grille.

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