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BY TIMOTHY O'HARA Citizen Staff
tohara@keysnews.com

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday that sets up the framework for the state to direct as much as $25 million a year to the Florida Keys for water-quality and land-conservation projects.

The Florida Keys Stewardship Act creates a 10-year funding strategy that appropriates as much as $25 million a year — potentially $250 million over the 10 years — for the acquisition of conservation land and water-quality projects, such as storm and wastewater projects and canal-restoration projects.

The Keys will receive far less than the $25 million that in the first year — only $10 million — roughly $5 million for water-quality projects and $5 million for land-conservation projects through the Florida Forever state grant program.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi referred to the governor’s approval as establishing the “checking account,” into which the money will flow. “The bill establishes the framework,” Gastesi said.

County Mayor Heather Carruthers called the bill a “symbolic recognition by the state Legislature of the importance of the Florida Keys from an environmental and economic perspective.”

“It shows commitment from the Legislature to the Keys,” Key West Mayor Craig Cates said. “This shows they understand the Keys and want to help. Everything really came together on this.”

Florida Keys State House Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said the signing of the bill is result of the efforts by the elected leaders of Monroe County and Keys cities.

“It is signed, seal and delivered,” Raschein said. “Everyone worked so hard to make this happen. I couldn’t be happier.”

The Keys may have received less than what it requested in the first year, but Raschein wanted to remind residents that the only legislator who received more money for water projects was House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

The local governments will split the first $100 million of the funding according to an interlocal agreement they agreed upon for current state wastewater funding. Islamorada and Marathon will each receive 17.5 percent of the funding. Key Largo will receive 25 percent and the county will take in 30 percent. Key West will receive 8 percent and Key Colony Beach will receive 2 percent.

The local leaders will now create a new allocation formula for the remaining potential $150 million.

However, the hard work is not over. The county and the cities must quickly develop plans to spend the money. Each year, the Keys’ state House and Senate representatives must formally request the $25 million from their fellow state legislators.

This means the county and Keys cities must spend all of the allocation if they want the best chance at receiving an allocation each following year. The county created a new position within its Lands Authority division to accelerate the purchases of conservation land.