Here’s what passes for “good” news in the Keys.
“We are thankful that Gov. Scott continues to support the Keys in our effort to restore canals, collect storm water and do projects that enhance the water quality of the nearshore waters, which are critically important to the Keys’ economy and environmentally sensitive marine resources,” County Commissioner David Rice said on Tuesday.
So why am I not wholeheartedly embracing this “wonderful” news? Well, if history is any guide, even if this money comes through it won’t do the Keys much good at all. It will just be squandered on one ill-conceived boondoggle or another. Not much to celebrate.
Monroe County is running away from the stench of its failed sewer projects as fast as it can. You’ll notice that Rice didn’t mention the sewer projects as a water quality project. The county threw $30 million in state money at the Cudjoe Regional project as soon as it came through, and promptly overspent the budget by $49 million – sticking Keys taxpayers with the tab. In other words, state money only prompted the county commissioners to spend more, and ultimately increase the burden on local taxpayers. It backfired. Big time.
Cudjoe Regional citizens are justifiably upset with the project and have filed a series of lawsuits to ensure that it is done right. It’s a never-ending battle. Not only that, but Big Coppitt and Duck Key are routinely failing to meet effluent quality requirements. Big Coppitt is the most expensive wastewater system in the Keys on a per EDU basis – and it doesn’t work.
The county clearly has no intention of cleaning up their mess. In fact, they’re frantically looking to make bigger ones. They are now turning their attention to more huge spending initiatives, such as canal restoration, which given the county’s track record, are almost certain to fail as well. Unfortunately, it looks like the state is as willing as ever to go along with it. One might call it enabling.
The Key Largo sewer project was completed on time and under budget. Well, the state clearly didn’t like that one bit. When money for Keys sewer projects finally started to come through, the state inexplicably decided that it all had to go to “new” projects – leaving Key Largo ratepayers out in the cold. This was a huge slap in the face, especially considering that the sewer projects (and the deadline that went with them) were state mandated in the first place. (The swap agreement is supposed to help remedy some of that, but I’m not convinced it will. We’ll see.)
By rewarding foolish behavior and punishing responsible behavior, the state has certainly shown Keys taxpayers where it stands on reckless and wasteful spending. They’re all for it. Local efforts to spend wisely will be slapped down – hard. Lesson learned.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. The state has also blocked efforts by Keys citizens to reform their own dysfunctional local government – specifically the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA).
- In 2005, then governor, Jeb Bush, vetoed a bill submitted by then Rep. Ken Sorensen that would have switched the FKAA board from an appointed board to an elected board.
- In 2012, the Senate Rules Committee, shot down a bill that would have required the same. Except that this time, the bill was submitted by Rep. Raschein because 70% of Keys voters supported a referendum calling for an elected board.
- In 2014, the state made it’s foolish and extremely unfair decision about wastewater funding. A move that benefited the county’s poorly executed and wasteful sewer projects, while punishing Key Largo’s efficient and cost-effective one.
- In 2015, governor Rick Scott was asked to look into Bob Dean’s violation of FKAA residency requirements. He never did. That matter seems to have gone down the memory hole. Maybe I should follow up!
- Also in 2015, governor Rick Scott appointed Richard Toppino to the FKAA board. An appointment that comes loaded with ongoing conflicts of interest, which the FKAA lied to the public about. (The Key West Citizen, ever the obedient lap dog, aided and abetted the deception.) It’s clear that Toppino was never properly vetted (if vetted at all) by the governor’s appointment office.
Now the governor has included $15 million in his budget for the Keys. And we’re supposed to be happy about it. Well, if I supported the unrestrained squandering of taxpayer money, as the state seems to, I’d be delighted.
But I don’t, so I’m not.
If the governor really wanted to help the Keys, he would support citizen efforts to improve local government. He would support local entities that made an effort to spend taxpayer money wisely – not punish them. He would follow up to ensure that the projects he’s supporting actually do the job they were supposed to do.
By the way, I sent an email to the county commissioners asking them if they’re ever going to clean up their sewer mess. I doubt I’ll hear anything. What can they say? But if I do, I’ll let you know.