Islamorada and Marathon representatives, as well as Key Largo wastewater officials, flew to the nation’s capital last week to speak to senators, representatives and the Army Corps of Engineers. Money for projects within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Quality Improvements Program, FEMA reimbursements and lighthouses were among the topics.
Keys officials left the following day feeling pretty good about the visit, including Islamorada Councilman Ken Davis, who said there were a number of positives. Davis said the Keys contingent met with the staff of Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, among others.
“They were all well understanding of the situation and issues we have when it comes to water quality,” Davis said. “One Congress member’s staff asked us for advice how to get their voters in their area to be more supportive of clean initiatives.”
Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey, Mayor John Bartus and Utilities Director Dan Saus joined Islamorada and Key Largo wastewater officials to lobby face-to-face for additional funds within the Florida Keys Water Improvements Program. In 2000, Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers to help municipalities in Monroe County develop and implement wastewater and stormwater improvements, with the goal to reduce nutrient loading, improve water quality and meet regulatory standards.
When the program was initiated in the early 2000s, federal officials pledged $100 million. According to Lindsey, $20 million has been doled out to the Keys in the past three years. With the funding no longer “earmarked,” local officials travel to the capitol every year to meet with Army Corps of Engineers to ensure the money is in the budget. The federal funds pay for wastewater and storm water improvements — essentially building infrastructure.
“We have a list of projects,” said Lindsey, “such as force main upgrades and creating and maintaining a sludge consolidation facility.”
Davis said water quality funding is pretty nonpartisan.
“They know the money we’re after, and everyone supports it. We will get a similar amount from last year, if not a little more,” Davis said. “When they see three different municipalities, Key Largo, Marathon, Islamorada work together and how important it is to us, they take notice.
Last year, the Keys received $4 million from the Army Corps through the water quality improvement program, which supports Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo wastewater treatment. Officials this year are hoping to receive $1 million more.
“It’s always nice to hear from the Army Corps how we’re the poster child of how to do things right, and the partnership we have,” said Islamorada Councilman Jim Mooney. “It says a lot about what we are as a community and the leadership we have.”
The Florida Keys has received $63 million of the $100 million towards wastewater infrastructure projects, leaving $37 million to be handed out. Since the Florida Keys water quality improvement program’s inception, stakeholders have demonstrate the ability to complete vital project on time and within budget.
“During this year’s visit, we met many new faces as well as many old friends,” said Diane Bockelman, Key Largo Wastewater Treatment’s district clerk and customer service manager. “Our projects continue to receive bipartisan support and we were told repeatedly that it’s nice to have projects like ours come forward as everyone is able to get behind them and support them. In today’s world that’s saying a lot. Over the years the stakeholders have built an outstanding team with great cooperation which is something to be proud of.”
Islamorada Vice Mayor Mike Forster said the visit was a great lightning round with federal policy makers. Following an 8 a.m. breakfast, Keys representatives followed up with a meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After that, they visited with the staff of Mucarsel-Powell and Rep. Brian Mast before lunch.
Forster said Keys representatives received complete consensus from everyone they engaged regarding lighthouses. The General Services Administration is seeking a suitor for four Keys lighthouses: Carysfort Reef, Alligator Reef, Sombrero Key and American Shoal. Mooney said the group had extensive conversations over the lighthouses, the Keys Reef Lighthouse Foundation’s application and what the GSA is doing with them.