Board calls for ’Glades action but rejects tweaks

No one denied the need to take action on Everglades restoration to help ailing Florida Bay, but Monroe County commissioners Wednesday declined to prioritize work on a new water-treatment area for south of Lake Okeechobee. Islamorada Village Council members and environmentalists urged the commission to “strengthen” its five-page Florida Bay resolution, which could be hand-delivered to Gov. Rick Scott this week in Key Largo. “Put more teeth into it, call a spade a spade,” said Key West charter captain Bill Wickers. “We have this kind of thing going in the state and our so-called [state] leadership sits on its hands. Somebody needs to call them out on this.” “Our resolution has been thoroughly vetted,” county Mayor Heather Carruthers said at the Marathon meeting Wednesday. “We feel it’s very thorough... It doesn’t say do one thing and not the other; it says let’s get it all done.” The resolution, approved unanimously, calls to “expedite water-storage planning south of Lake Okeechobee, such as [ in the Everglades Agricultural Area] ... in an effort to look for new water to add to the freshwater flow to Florida Bay.” State and federal officials now have scheduled planning for a massive water-storage area near the big lake to begin in 2020, with construction adding several more years. Public speakers Wednesday asked county commissioners for tweaks to emphasize the need for immediate work on planning the water-storage area, which would hold and treat fresh water that could be sent south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay during dry seasons. The summer drought in 2015 apparently triggered a seagrass die-off that now has covered large swaths of northern Florida Bay. The dead seagrass seems highly likely to cause a harmful algae bloom similar to one that started in 1989, scientists predict. “Start here,” said guide Elizabeth Jolin of Florida Bay Forever. “If they carry on without this one [storage] project, it’s pointless.” “Sooner rather than later on the purchase of the land,” Islamorada Mayor Deb Gillis said. “Strengthen it up.” Commissioners agree the water-storage area is needed. Commissioner David Rice called waiting seven years or more for it “unacceptable.” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said, “It’s time for sugar farming in the Everglades to end.” However, the board board passed its resolution as drafted without making the changes. Carruthers said demanding a specific time line could cause more delays that could stall other necessary near-term restoration projects. Islamorada Village Councilman Mike Forster, a recreational fisherman who has become an ardent Florida Bay advocate, suggested board members of the South Florida Water Management District, the state’s lead agency on Everglades restoration, be elected instead of appointed by the governor. The two district governors designated to represent Monroe County live in Martin and Palm Beach counties, and both are real-estate professionals who deal with agricultural land, Forster said, adding, “We need some better representation instead of somebody who’s in the realty business with agriculture.” Kolhage said the county’s resolution should be hand-delivered to Scott, who may be in the Upper Keys this week for a ceremonial signing of the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which dedicates state money to local land acquisition and water-quality projects. “This is not another resolution that gets passed across desk and filed,” Kolhage said. “This is an emergency, not just a routine resolution, and we need you to act.” The South Florida Water Management District recently approved structural projects that could double the amount of fresh water annually going down a flow way into Taylor Slough, which feeds the eastern side of Florida Bay, agency Everglades coordinator Ernie Marks told county commissioners Wednesday. The revamped system, estimated to cost $3.3 million, is expected to be in operation in November. “It’s not the silver bullet, we know that,” Marks told commissioners. “There is more to do.”


Bug board raising taxes Oct. 1

A new Florida Keys Mosquito Control District building in the Lower Keys will result in higher property taxes for Keys residents in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The building, construction of which is expected to start in September, is budgeted at $4.56 million maximum. The land on Big Coppitt Key cost $750,000. There are also “soft costs” such as for attorneys, a title search, Monroe County permit fees and the like that amount to $440,000, says district Finance Director Bruce Holden. But not everyone is on board with the new structure. District commissioners Tom McDonald and Phil Goodman have voted against it. Proponents of the building say it is needed because the district’s current Key West building is owned by that city and the city will not renew the district’s lease. “We missed a real opportunity to do so some consolidation in Marathon,” Goodman said, referring to the district’s big building on 107th Street adjacent to Florida Keys Marathon International Airport, out of which the district flies its aircraft. He and others said a big reason for the new structure is because Lower Keys employees didn’t want to commute to the Middle Keys, so basically the Big Coppitt building is being done to retain staff. “We refurbished offices in Marathon” for more staff, he said, but that apparently went for naught. “What we need is an operational facility, a garage for vehicles and some staff and that’s it,” McDonald said. “But we do not need that humongous [Big Coppitt] building. We could get by with a whole lot less. But going forward, if the majority wants the building, we have to pay for it.” Tuesday, the Mosquito Control Board adopted an initial tax rate of $68.31 per $100,000 of assessed property value. The current rate is $50.19 per $100,000. The initial rate for next year can be lowered before the fiscal year starts but cannot increase under law. The proposed 2016-17 rate is to support a planned budget of $15.4 million, up from the current $11.8 million. Reserves this year are expected to come in at $4.4 million at year’s end. For next fiscal year, there will be about $2 million in reserves. The lower number is due in most part to constructing the new building. Commissioner Steve Smith said plans for the building have been scaled back to reduce the cost. “The guys have whacked everything,” he said. “We were going to have aluminum [window] shades, we cut that out. Instead of new furniture, we’re going to make do with what we have,” he said. “We’re not going to get gold-plated stuff or anything else.” Solar was also planned but that, too has been scaled back. However, the infrastructure to install it will be done with an eye toward going solar in the future, district Director Michael Doyle said.


Mini-season lobster mania begins

A lust for lobster will lure an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 divers and snorkelers to Florida waters on Wednesday and Thursday, with most of them headed to the Florida Keys.


Marathon plans $15.8M budget

Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey on Thursday unveiled a proposed $15,833,200 city budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The proposed city property tax to support it is 2.5 mills, or $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s less than the current 2.159 rate. The owner of a $300,000 house would pay $750 in city taxes next year if the proposed 2016-17 rate remains unchanged. Under state law, it can do down but not increase before the budget year starts. The current fiscal year’s general-fund budget is $14,075,636. According to budget backup information, Marathon’s current-year adjusted taxable value of land is $2.144 billion. This year, the city expects to collect $4,629,044 in city taxes. The rest of the money comes from things such as city fees for services, grants, state revenue sharing and the like. In next year’s proposed spending plan, the biggest expenditure is $3,410,859 for fire and emergency medical services. Policing would cost $1,653,731. Parks and recreation is the next costliest at $1,298,089.


Refugee was ordered deported in ’03

One of the three Cuban migrants who landed at the Middle Keys community of Key Colony Beach Monday morning was ordered removed back to his home country in 2003, according to court documents.


Beware of the ‘white tuna’

If you see “white tuna” on the menu at a restaurant, beware. There is no species of fish called white tuna — and eating it may relegate you to a day stuck on the toilet.

This week's circulars


Biscayne Bay terrorism training

Biscayne Bay terrorism training, Miami Dade SWAT and federal agents on the Biscayne Lady vessel. This is a drill. Reporter, Keynoter and are the only media on the boat. Video by David Goodhue, July 6, 2016.
David Goodhue
Biscayne Bay terrorism training 0:46

Biscayne Bay terrorism training

Key Largo July 4th Parade 1:56

Key Largo July 4th Parade

Rehabbed turtle released 1:48

Rehabbed turtle released

Miami grad overcomes life of hardships 1:34

Miami grad overcomes life of hardships