Boats at rest in the Marathon City Marina's mooring field located in Boot Key Harbor. DOUG FINGER/Keys Weekly

Less than a month remains before a 60-day session of policy and funding discussions in Tallahassee begins. Coming off his first year in office, state Rep. Jim Mooney is hoping to secure funding for infrastructure, education, the environment and other critical projects in 2022. 

A 2020-21 legislative session saw Mooney successfully securing full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. With a $20 million appropriation approved, it was the first year the program received the entire amount requested since it was signed into law in 2016. Funding for the program, which supports ongoing environmental projects in the Keys, will remain a priority in the coming session. 

Initial budgets during the last legislative session saw no money for the Stewardship Act in the House and only $2 million in the Senate. That changed, however, before the conclusion of the session. DeSantis ended up signing a budget into law for the $20 million Stewardship Act funds and an additional $5 million for land acquisition. Mooney said he’ll be working this year to ensure the Stewardship Act is approved for recurring funds.

“We’re going to put forth a bill to try to get recurring funds so we don’t have to fight for it every year,” Mooney said. “If we could get $20 million this year, that would be great. We’ll see how that plays out. We’re in an Area of Critical Concern, so that always makes things a little easier.”

Mooney is also leading an appropriation in the House for $300,000 for installation of a glass crusher, conveyor and material handling components in Key West. Charley Toppino & Sons Inc. has agreed in principal to partner with the City of Key West to share land and operational resources, to establish glass reuse and material distribution. Waste Management Inc. is willing to collect and deliver recycled glass to the crusher for reuse in the community. The mayor and city commissioners have voiced support for glass reuse, according to the appropriations request. 

Collection and delivery of recycled glass to a crusher for processing into usable materials will eliminate transportation costs to truck glass to landfills, which are located hundreds of miles from Key West. Recycled glass will be collected from residents and businesses, delivered to the glass crusher facility, converted into fill materials and distributed to material yards for use in concrete, asphalt and general fill material.

“That’s already been heard in committee and passed in the first hurdle,” Mooney said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

Key Colony Beach is seeking $2.6 million in state funds for construction of a stormwater collection and disposal system for the southerly drainage basin that extends approximately 1,000 feet north from some intersections of Ocean Drive. The system will be considered a stormwater treatment train consisting of a perforated PVC pipe swale system, followed by baffle boxes with hydrocarbon filter socks, to gravity injection wells. The existing roadway/shoulder areas will be enhanced with perforated pipe exfiltration trenches. Engineering study and plans are complete. 

Appropriation requests are also in for a wastewater treatment system and irrigation upgrades at Pigeon Key, $770,175; College of the Florida Keys for completion of the Academy Classroom Facility and Emergency Operations Center, $3 million; and Monroe County for a vessel pump-out program, $300,000. 

Mooney is also supporting a funding request of $942,000 for the construction of a Category 5 regional aquaponics facility. The project will see Fresh Ministries and College of the Florida Keys partnering to provide education, workforce training, economic development and food insecurity alleviation. 

“The direct services provided to the citizens would be job training, fresh healthy produce, lower cost produce and sustainable incomes,” according to the funding request application. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ full budget proposal hasn’t been unveiled yet. But he has unveiled several plans, including more than $100 million to support Florida’s National Guard and establish the Florida State Guard, a civilian volunteer force that will assist the National Guard during state-specific emergencies. He’s also proposing $400 million in new funding to increase the salaries of first responders.

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Jim McCarthy is a 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 3-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, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).