Kolhage – Talking Sense on Canal Restoration?

New Monroe County Logo2It’s been a strange couple of days.  First, I fact-checked an animal control matter, and statements made turned out to be truthful.  What the heck!??  Then I read this news story about those abominable canal restoration projects and Kolhage actually said something sensible.  What on earth is going on here?

These are strange times.  I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.  Anyhow, here is how reporter Tim O’Hara characterized Kolhage’s comments.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Danny Kolhage said he could only support a storm water improvement tax on canal-front property owners.

“The people who live by the canals should be the only ones to pay for the canals,” Kolhage said.

I agree.  There is no evidence to suggest that anyone besides the property owners abutting the canals will benefit from this project.  There is no public access.  There is expected to be no substantial benefit to surrounding waters.  Unless county staff can make a solid, fact-based case otherwise, then the county has no business taxing anyone besides the property owners for this project.

In fact, I question whether this project should be done at all.  There are priorities far more urgent than improving property values for a small minority of property owners.  County buildings are falling down.  Sea level rise.  True storm water projects.  This just is not an appropriate use of taxpayer money – especially at a price tag of between $300 million and $700 million.

County staff is using the lower figure lately, but we know how that goes.  This project will cost $700 million at least.  The lower number is being thrown out there to entice people into supporting the project.  They wouldn’t if they knew the real price tag.  A very similar tactic was used on the Bernstein Park project.

Usually Kolhage is gross, shady, irresponsible and unfair – enthusiastically approving reckless spending and going along with sleazy schemes like a good soldier.  So I’m not sure what’s happening here.  Maybe he’s not getting a piece of the action this time.

On Wednesday, the commission did vote on canal restoration projects in Key Largo and Tavernier, which lead to a heated exchange between Commissioner Kolhage and County Administrator Roman Gastesi about dedicating $1.5 million in Florida Keys Stewardship Act funding toward canal restoration projects.

Kolhage argued that the board never formally agreed or voted on a resolution to put the $1.5 million toward canal projects. In the past, Kolhage has argued the Stewardship Act funding should go toward acquiring environmentally sensitive land.

Gastesi argued that he was under the impression the commission had made canal restoration a priority and publicly discussed using Stewardship Act funds toward canal restoration projects.

As much as I despise the county commissioners, I do often get the impression that the iPhone Bandit leads them around by the nose.  It makes me feel just a little bit sorry for them.  They just can’t keep up with all the blather.  Poor things.  This looks to be another one of those occasions where a sleazy county official, in this case the iPhone Bandit, creates a false sense of urgency and takes advantage of a lack of clarity to push a secretive, self-serving agenda.

Kolhage isn’t going along with it…for now.  But Murphy and Neugent say they will.  Rice didn’t say one way or the other.  Carruthers wasn’t at this meeting .  Maybe she was job searching so can pay her tax bill.  (That would be the responsible thing for her to do.)  But since this project involves reckless spending and gross unfairness she’ll probably back it 100%.

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