State representative, local officials focusing on water, land for 2015 legislative session

rmccarthy@keynoter.comJuly 12, 2014 

An emphasis on a team effort was the dominant theme during a Thursday roundtable hosted by state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) to discuss future Keys water-quality improvement projects.

Raschein called it all but a foregone conclusion that voters in November will approve the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 to the state Constitution.

"It's going to happen and I happen to think that amendment describes my entire district. Is there a way to get a piece of that pie?" Rashein asked the various local officials that gathered for the confab at the Marathon Government Center.

Amendment 1 would set aside one-third of documentary stamp revenue, raised through land sales, to state efforts to acquire and protect sensitive land and waterways. It's expected to raise as much as $10 billion during the next 20 years.

Raschein gathered the Keys officials to take input about how they should pursue Amendment 1 funding and what projects are most important to them. On hand were representatives from Monroe County, Marathon, Key West, Islamorada, Key Colony Beach, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District.

The answers were varied, but included the following projects or concerns:

-- Potable water supply and water reuse.

-- Stormwater projects.

-- Sea-level rise and possible saltwater intrusion of sewer systems.

-- Canal restoration.

-- Paying down debt from existing wastewater and stormwater projects.

In addition, the group discussed the possibility of amending language to the existing so-called Mayfield grant that authorized $200 million in state funding for Keys sewer projects. So far, $100 million, including $50 million this year, has been doled out.

But Raschein has been clear she prefers not to go after another $50 million in the 2015 state legislative session. She's said it was a large ask and that she wants to address other priorities.

"We need to get the Mayfield language amended, allow it to be used for other things and that's what we need to talk about,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay, among others, urged the group to show the same "unity" it did in lobbying the state for the first $100 million in Mayfield funding.

"I'm not sure we're going to come to specifics today, but that's my input. We have got to work as a team," he said.

County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said it's important to hammer home to state officials the "value we bring to the entire state" in terms of tourism.

"Our functional population is twice what our permanent population is," she said. "Investing in water quality here is more important in some ways than anywhere else. We need to make that argument as forcefully as possible."

The group agreed to discuss how to approach funding at a future meeting, once all the stakeholders have a chance to evaluate the others' priorities.

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