Flooded streets in the Twin Lakes community in Key Largo in 2020. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Seven years have passed since Monroe County officials initiated a pilot project to address flooding at Key Largo’s Twin Lakes community. For resident Stephanie Russo, it’s been a long seven years.

On Nov. 15, Monroe County commissioners authorized County Administrator Roman Gastesi to execute a $3.9-million grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the project’s construction phase. With federal funds secured by U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez totaling around $5.5 million, the county has secured $9,415,567 in total grant money. An engineer’s estimate has construction around $9,943,907, however, and that number could rise with inflation, construction companies too busy for the work and other possible delays. 

Speaking to county commissioners on Nov. 15, Russo said her community has witnessed their quality of life deteriorating and essential services fading with the rising waters. Russo said they’ve dealt with flooding every day dating back to September.

Flooding has caused damage to Russo’s vehicles in recent times. Not only that, Russo and fellow residents aren’t seeing garbage trucks stopping at their homes anymore. Instead, residents are hauling their bags to a Dumpster parked outside their community. 

Deputies are also having trouble accessing homes in the neighborhood, according to Russo. 

“Late one evening, my husband encountered two sheriff’s SUVs parked in our neighborhood with three officers standing at the corner of Crane and Shaw,” she said. “He asked if they needed assistance and they explained a burglar alarm was going off down the street, but they weren’t allowed to drive through the flood. He gave them a ride to the property and back to their vehicles so that they could respond.”

Russo said the rising waters within the Twin Lakes community makes it impossible to walk dogs, ride bikes or welcome friends and family to the house. The U.S. Postal Service also stopped mail delivery due to the heavy flooding. 

“Our quality of life, safety, health and well-being continue to degrade and we can’t obtain essential services we pay for while property taxes continue to increase,” Russo told county commissioners. 

Twin Lakes’ sea level rise road and drainage project includes reconstructing and elevating low-lying areas of Shaw Drive and Adams Drive to a minimum elevation of 13 inches. The minimum target elevation was determined using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s intermediate high sea level rise projections for 2040. The project will also install a gravity wall along a portion of Shaw Drive, a pump-and-treat stormwater collection system, a pump station on Crane Street and five injection wells. 

County officials submitted a grant application to the state in October 2021 for the Twin Lakes pilot project. By December 2021, the county received word that the application was approved and granted funds through the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. Roughly a year later, county and state officials are executing the agreement. Once that’s complete, a request for proposals will go out to interested construction companies. 

With the county waiting on approvals from the state and federal governments, Russo said continued delays could mean increased construction costs. Russo asked county officials to seek ways to expedite those approvals and find ways to come up with any shortfalls between the awarded grant money and construction costs. 

“I’m begging you not to wait until bids come in to start looking at how the shortfall is going to be made for this project,” Russo said. 

County Commissioner Holly Merrill Raschein said the project remains a priority and “we’ll try to figure out what the holdup is.” County Mayor Craig Cates said he could hear frustration within Russo’s voice. 

“It’s taken so long,” he said. “Now that law enforcement doesn’t want to go out there, that’s concerning. We’ve got to keep this a priority.”

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.