FKAA won’t raise rates for $50 million in projects

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority won’t borrow $50 million for projects that would have included upgrading a 1967-era reverse osmosis desalination plant on Stock Island.

Its five-member board unanimously decided Wednesday instead to direct staff to seek legislative help with the funding “in light of recent discussions with state Rep. Holly Raschein,” (R-Key Largo), the FKAA said in a statement.

Borrowing the $50 million would have brought a 5 percent rate increase for the next two fiscal years.

Kirk Zuelch, executive director of the FKAA, said he met with Raschein earlier this month and she said she would either make a separate budget request for the funding or include it in the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which earmarks money for water projects and conservation in the Keys. This year’s allocation was $13 million.

The Stock Island plant, which costs the FKAA about $1 million a year in repairs, originally was built to produce 3 million gallons of water a day in case of an emergency.

But when part of it was shifted to Marathon, its production fell to 2 million gallons a day. The Lower Keys uses about 8 million gallons of water each day.

“It was put there to cover the Lower Keys,” said Zuelch. “It’s like an old car. We’re spending a lot of money on it and it’s not as reliable.”

If the board wants a capacity of 4 million gallons a day, it will cost some $38 million, FKAA staff says, and there are lesser options producing less water.

In addition to the Stock Island plant project, the rest of the proposed projects included replacing areas of transmission pipeline that staff calls vulnerable. The Keys’ water plant is in Florida City.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen