Florida Keys Stewardship Act heads to the governor for signing

kwadlow@keynoter.com

March 11, 2016

A final version of the Florida Keys Stewardship Act passed Thursday by the Florida Legislature secures an additional $5 million annually for a decade.

An amendment to the act allocates a yearly $5 million for land acquisition from the Florida Forever program until 2027. That is in addition to a one-time allocation in the new state budget of $5 million for water-quality projects under the stewardship act.

“This is huge,” County Administrator Roman Gastesi said Friday. “Not only did we restore a $3 million set-aside that we’d lost [from Florida Forever] but got it increased to $5 million.”

“Land acquisition down here is a heck of a challenge. Every little bit helps,” Gastesi said.

The Florida Keys Stewardship Act, sponsored by state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and Sens. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) and Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey), also calls for $5 million from the 2016-17 general budget for Florida Keys environmental projects.

Requests for additional environmental money now can be made under the umbrella of the stewardship act, Gastesi said.

“Now that we’ve built the bucket, we can go back every year to work on filling it up,” he said.

The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott. The governor could sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.

“We have a strong team working on this in Tallahassee,” Gastesi said.

Monroe County officials entered the legislative session seeking a 10-year commitment of $25 million annually for assorted Keys conservation efforts.

While the final version of the bill does not include the full amount, the act establishes a framework and precedent for funding in coming years, Gastesi said.

Another recently changed aspect of the bill would allow local government to use portions of revenue from the voter-approved infrastructure sales tax to pay judgments if a Keys landowner wins a “takings” lawsuit over the inability to build because of the state-imposed Area of Critical State Concern rules.

Other aspects of the new Florida budget reportedly include $500,000 to continue a boat-sewage pump-out program intended to safeguard nearshore waters and $3.5 million for Florida Keys bridge work.

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