Raschein gets 3 bills to governor

State legislators have included $50 million in funding for Florida Keys wastewater projects in their final budget proposal to the governor.

Lawmakers began the budget conferencing process last week to iron out the differences between the proposed House budget and that of the Senate. The conferencing wrapped up shortly before midnight Sunday night, according to Keys State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo.

The Keys wastewater funding was one of the issues that needed to be resolved in conferencing, as the Senate did not include the $50 million in its proposal.

Raschein and others were optimistic about Gov. Rick Scott approving the budget with Keys wastewater funding in it, as he has included it in his budget proposal and told Keys’ leaders that he is supportive of the Keys wastewater projects.

“I feel it is a done deal, but I wouldn’t want to speak for the governor,” Raschein said. “He did put it in his budget.”

Keys leaders praised Raschein, who was working on the issue until the budget conferencing was resolved late last night.

“We can’t give Holly enough praise,” Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay said. “Our lobbyists have said this would not have happened without her work … We are thrilled. We plan to send thank you letters to all the major players, including the governor.”

Last year, Scott told the Keys he would not include $50 million for wastewater because a bulk of the money was going to Key Largo and Marathon to pay down existing debt. Scott had made job creation one of his top priorities.

The prior year, Scott allocated $50 million to the Keys, with the bulk of that money going to Monroe County and Islamorada for new sewer projects.

In 2007, the state Legislature appropriated $200 million in wastewater and stormwater funding to the Keys, but the Keys did not receive the first $50 million until two years ago.

This year’s funding plan calls for Marathon and Key Largo to receive the bulk of the money, splitting roughly $17 million each. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the county would split $5 million. Islamorada would receive $7 million. Key West would receive about $3 million, and Key Colony Beach would receive $1 million.

The Key Largo Wastewater District plans to use the money for the installation of roughly 140 grinder-pump sewage collection systems, build a sludge-hauling system and other work, district General Manager Margaret Blank has said.

Marathon plans to use its share of the money for upgrading and installing tanks, pipe work and upgrading sewer treatment facilities, according to acting Marathon City Manager Mike Puto

Both Key Largo and Marathon officials said they have projects way in excess of $5 million each.

In addition to the sewer funding, the Florida Senate has also given final approval to three more bills sponsored Raschein. The bills are designed to protect the spiny lobster fishery, delay state policies the deal with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. windstorm coverage in the Keys and give divers the option of using a diver down buoy in place of a flag.

The spiny lobster strengthens the penalties for possession of spiny lobster during closed season or possession of wrung tails on the water.

The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. bill delays the implementation of a provision of a piece of legislation from last year that prohibited coverage in some coastal areas of the Keys. Raschein’s legislation to give the state Legislature time to fix some glitches in last year’s legislation, she said.

tohara@keysnews.com

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