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Legislative session reaches halfway point

Mooney

Two freshman legislators are currently serving Monroe County in the Florida House of Representatives and Senate. The 2021 legislative session began in March and is roughly halfway done as of this week.

State Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, has introduced a number of bills and appropriations to the House that he believes would be beneficial to District 120, which includes all of Monroe County and a small part of Miami-Dade.

One appropriation that Mooney is keeping a particular eye on would assist in stopping saltwater intrusion into the Biscayne Aquifer, which is the region’s main source of drinking water.

As Mooney explained, on the east side of Card Sound Road, several ditches were dug years ago for a planned land development. That development never took place and the ditches have allowed saltwater intrusion. The bill is currently asking for $175,000 in funding and Mooney hopes to pick up more funding on the Senate side. It is currently in the appropriations committee.

A bill co-sponsored by Mooney and state Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, would require the Florida Legislature’s Office of Demographic and Economic Research to include assessments of inland and coastal flooding every five years, and provide an estimate of how much spending would be required to address it. Mooney said this goes along with a larger House bill that will establish a statewide grant program to fund community flood resilience planning.

Legislators have a few other similar bills on the table to include funds to combat flooding, make infrastructure more resilient and generally mitigate the effects of climate change.

“All infrastructure appropriations are related to both age and future sea-level issues we face,” Mooney said.

Mooney has introduced a few other appropriations bills that would update infrastructure or increase resilience in Monroe County. One would divert funds for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to update its standby power system. Another would give $4.5 million to the College of the Florida Keys for what is described as “academy classrooms facility and emergency operations center-revert and reappropriate.”

There are also bills in the appropriations committee to give funds to Mote Marine lab for coral restoration and to the Windley Key and Key Heights affordable housing projects.

Mooney has also co-sponsored a bill that would allow requests for building inspections to be submitted electronically and for some building inspections to be performed by inspectors virtually, in certain cases. He said this would be beneficial for contractors in the state.

State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, did not respond to requests for comment on her activity in the first half of the legislative session.

She has introduced at least two bills that are symbolic in nature. One, titled “Taiwan,” would recognize shared interests between the United States and Taiwan as well as express support for future trade developments with the nation. Another, titled “Victims of Communism,” would require that every year on Nov. 7 that the state Legislature take a moment of silence in recognition of those who died under communist regimes.

A few of her bills have been related to the environment and carbon emissions. She co-sponsored one bill that would establish a grant program to install electric vehicle infrastructure and charging stations. However, Rodriguez also sponsored a bill that would ban state agencies from regulating greenhouse gases “for the purposes of addressing changes in atmospheric temperature” without authorization from the Legislature. That bill, Senate Bill 1236, has not yet been referred to committee.

She had a bill filed that would ban the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from granting permits for oil drilling within the Everglades. She is co-sponsoring a bill that has passed through its assigned committees that would establish a sea-level-rise task force.

Two of Rodriguez’s sponsored bills have to do with women’s access to abortions. One, which is titled “Florida Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would not allow an abortion to be performed on a child if its probable gestation age is 20 weeks or more “unless it is necessary to prevent serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

Another bill would make a physician’s abortion records exempt from a public records request, meaning the state Department of Health cannot make them available for public inspection except if they are related to a criminal investigation.

eweld@keysnews.com


Local
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BY DESIGN
Bahama Village Community Center moving ahead

After delays, design changes and other interruptions that have slowed construction on the new community center in Bahama Village, the project is moving toward a final design approval by city officials.

The Key West Planning Board and city’s Tree Commission have signed off on the plans, which call for a 9,500-square-foot, $4-million building located next to the Douglass Gym on Olivia Street. The Historic Architectural Review Commission is scheduled to take a last look at the design at its Wednesday, April 28, meeting. If HARC members approve the design, it goes to the Key West City Commission for a final approval.

“We’re hoping to go back [to HARC] either this meeting or the next,” said project manager Karen Wilman, senior construction manager for Key West. “We’re going to keep it moving.”

Even after those approvals, however, there are still time-consuming steps the city has to take before ground can be broken. Once city commissioners have signed off, city engineers and the architect, K2M Design, will finalize construction blueprints and cost estimates, then put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to construction companies.

“We’re ready to roll on this,” said Key West Engineering Director Steve McAlearney. “This has been going on, it seems like forever. We, the city, have changed project managers a few times. We’re on our third project manager. The architects have changed project managers.”

Originally proposed to be located in what is now the new Truman Waterfront Park, high costs of the park led city officials to move the community center next to the Douglass Gym, where Tax Incremental Funding (TIF), a percentage of neighborhood property taxes funneled back into the area for community improvement projects, could be used instead of grant money designated for the park. The initial cost estimate in 2018 was $3 million for a roughly 6,000-square-foot community center. Since then, the square footage has increased to 9,496, with the budget estimated at a little more than $4 million.

The plans call for a two-story building to be built next to but separate from the Douglass Gym. Inside the two-story structure, the first floor will contain a large multipurpose main hall that can be used for concerts and District 6 community meetings. It will also contain classrooms and a commercial kitchen.

“It will have a kitchen if Star of the Sea wants to host some sort of meal program,” McAlearney said, referring to the St. Mary’s Basilica meal and food pantry program for people and families in need.

The second floor will have offices, including “incubator” space for the development of small local businesses. There will also be a large studio where the Bahama Village Music Program can hold student rehearsals.

In other Bahama Village construction news, the new community health center at 727 Fort St. is on track to open to the public near the end of July, McAlearney said. CHI, a Miami-based non-profit medical services provider that operates health centers in Marathon and Tavernier, is developing the former Douglass School band room into a 4,000-square-foot health clinic for family medicine, obstetrics, pediatrics, dental care, a pharmacy, laboratory services and mental health and substance abuse services. Free parking will be available in the existing lot across the street from the building.

CHI was approved for a lease agreement in April 2020 after a years-long debate over how the empty band room building could be used. A Bahama Village community group, the Frederick Douglass Black Educators Memorial Project, wanted the city to give the band room building to them for a museum and community center honoring former teachers from the Douglass High School. The school educated generations of Black students from 1871 to 1965, when the schools in Key West and Monroe County were finally desegregated.

psowers@keysnews.com


News
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New conservation group rolls back the tide on plastic

A fork, a cup, a pen and a zip tie are just some of the plastics washed ashore that Coastal Waters Revitalization volunteers recently plucked from a bed of sargassum seaweed in the Upper Keys.

The new organization was founded by Coral Shores High School graduate Nick Macshane, who said his frustration has skyrocketed after witnessing the amount of plastic floating in nearshore waters.

Coastal Waters Revitalization has been organizing community cleanups with the intent of removing as many micro-plastics as possible from the water.

“This is basic environmental conservation. We are locals just trying to cleanup our home. We are born and raised in the Keys and we are trying to make a difference,” Macshane said. “We’ve organized a few events and have been doing small area cleanups amongst ourselves. That’s something we all should be doing.”

Earlier this year, Coastal Waters Revitalization and community partners organized a cleanup with about 30 volunteers that removed 413 pounds of trash.

The group also recently held cleanups on April 3 at Taylor Creek Village and April 4 at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park; both events were in partnership with Monroe County Solid Waste, Upper Keys Sanitary Services and Overseas Trucking and Bobcat.

Key Largo resident Kim Hamilton signed up to pick up debris, which she said is profuse.

“Our oceans and shorelines need to be cleaned up. They’re a mess,” she said. “I wish everyone cleaned up after themselves, but they don’t. I’ve done several cleanups in the past with MarineLab, so I’m excited to do this. It’s amazing how much trash you see when you go out on the boat. There’s a need for this. It’s a good thing to do.”

Macshane said his wish is for people to consume less single-use plastics and plastic packaging. Large-scale cleanups coordinated with like-minded organizations are on Coastal Waters Revitalization’s horizons.

“We are planning on an Earth Day event, which falls on Thursday [April 22] and Boy Scout Troop 912 contacted me to do another Harry Harris cleanup,” he said.

Volunteers are asked to bring gloves, buckets and whatever instrument necessary to scoop up trash. Drinking water, sunblock and bug spray are recommended.

For information about Coastal Waters Revitalization and its mission to educate the public on the importance of protecting the Keys fragile aquatic ecosystems from pollution, visit http://www.coastalwatersrevitalization.com or find them on Facebook or Instagram.

tjava@keysnews.com


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Local
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Key Largo fire district urges more street lighting

Fire and EMS district commissioners are seeking an end to the spate of horrifying traffic accidents in the area and out of concern, they’re requesting streetlights be installed along U.S. 1 from Mile Marker 100 to Mile Marker 104.

The request has been documented as the Key Largo Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District’s first resolution of the year.

District board and staff will contact agencies and utilities with jurisdiction over the road to probe the feasibility of installing additional lighting along the highway corridor.

“[T]he District has noticed a significant concentration of serious motor vehicle-pedestrian accidents near Mile Marker 100 and Mile Marker 104, areas frequented by tourists for recreational purposes; and ... the District believes that a lack of adequate street lighting in these areas is a contributing factor to the frequency of these accidents,” the resolution says.

The discussion on the inky street lighting was brought up at a meeting earlier this year by district Commissioner Ken Edge, just weeks after a man was struck and killed crossing the road at Mile Marker 104.

The district will seek support for additional lighting from the Monroe County Commission, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Congressman Carlos Gimenez.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol’s Crash Dashboard, there have been five fatal vehicle crashes resulting in seven fatalities on Monroe County roads since the beginning of the year. Additionally, there has been one bicycle fatality, one motorcycle fatality and one pedestrian killed on roads in the Florida Keys.

The next Key Largo Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services District meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 12. For information, visit http://www.klfirerescueems.com.

tjava@keysnews.com


News
U.S. 1 Radio listing April 8

Ginger Sayer is one of the organizers of the Seven-Mile Bridge Run, coming up on April 17. She joins the show to talk about preparations for the 40th running of the event.

Also on today’s show:

• Michelle Coldiron, Monroe County Mayor

• Lance Martin, Marathon High School Athletic Director

• Ana Maria Rodriguez, State Senator

• Carlos Gimenez, U.S. Congressman

• Kerry Shelby, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Executive Director

• Sean Brandenberg, Key West Police Chief

• Andy Newman, Tourist Development Council spokesman


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