Despite Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s (I) authorization this month of as much as $200 million for a long-term effort to provide upgraded sewer systems for the Florida Keys, the prospects are poor for funding in total the estimated $937-million project.
The governor’s action—which also extended the project deadline to 2015 from July 2010—does not provide a timeline for delivery of the Everglades Restoration bonds; it only authorizes the Florida Legislature to initiate the $200 million in bonding sometime in the future.
Liz Wood, Monroe County’s senior administrator for sewer projects, says the nine municipalities and utilities that will build the projects are short about $336 million. Monroe County project owners need that $200 million to complete their funding plans. “We’re very hopeful that our economy will strengthen and that those monies will come through,” she says.
The Keys Wastewater Plan was initiated in 1999 when the Florida Legislature set advanced wastewater-treatment effluent standards, which include 5 milligrams per liter for biological oxygen demand, 5 mg/L for total suspended solids, 3 mg/L for total nitrogren and 1 mg/L for total phosphorous.
By 2000, officials estimated the Keys had some 23,000 private on-site wastewater systems, with about 7,200 of “unknown” type. Of those, roughly 2,800 were suspected of being illegal cesspools.
The state Legislature did not allow a local sales-tax increase that would provide “discretionary funding” for remaining work to be put before Monroe County voters.
Utilities in the more densely populated Upper Keys have been able to access grant funding. “Their service areas are more dense, so less pipe is required to serve each customer,” adds Wood.
Due to the Lower Keys’ sparser population, billing those residents for the construction is considered too heavy a financial burden.
As Monroe County officials review funding options, some major projects are ongoing. Key Largo’s new 2.3-million-gal/day treatment plant, which uses vacuum collection, is scheduled to come online this fall, Wood says. It will bring roughly half of the utility’s service area into compliance.
Wood says major pending capital projects include two treatment plants and two central collection systems, with cost estimates for each ranging from $12 million to $20 million. Plans and specs are being finalized for the first of these two treatment plants.