The Apalachicola City Commission has taken its first step in their proactive approach towards bringing additional state support to the city of Apalachicola.

When approved in December, the commission’s legislative agenda called for using a very successful strategy from Monroe County that leveraged the Area of Critical State Concern designation into state funding. The Apalachicola Environmental Stewardship Bill is a 2019 legislative initiative by the city of Apalachicola that seeks $22.6 million in funding to address the city’s most pressing needs - infrastructure improvements to our wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater systems, water quality protection, and workforce housing.

The Apalachicola Bay Area Protection Act, passed in 1986, established Franklin County as an Area of Critical State Concern. This is a state designation in recognition of the significant environmental sensitivity and natural resources of the area and the state’s interest in protecting them. The legislative intent included protecting the water quality of the Apalachicola Bay to ensure a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

In 1994, the state removed the Area of Critical State Concern designation from the remainder of Franklin County. Today, the city of Apalachicola is one of only two populated areas in Florida that remain designated as Areas of Critical State Concern. Monroe County, the other area that shares this designation, has received $28.3 million over the last three years to support the same type of initiatives. The Apalachicola Environmental Stewardship Bill builds on the Florida Legislature’s intent to support the city’s unique needs and asks for comparable funding.

The bill specifically requests the following:

Nearshore water quality protection through wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements. The city’s aging infrastructure is failing and unable to support the needs of its residents, businesses, and visitors. The bill requests $17 million to repair and upgrade its systems to safeguard the area’s unique environment and to allow for economic growth.

Drinking water improvements. The bill requests $1.6 million to install a filtration system mandated by the state to bring the levels of trihalomethanes into compliance with federal standards.

Water quality protection through land acquisition. The bill requests $4 million per year over the next 10 years for land acquisition and capital improvements to facilitate public access.

Updates to Tourist Impact Tax statutes. In addition to the environmental aspects, the bill lays the groundwork for a unique, dedicated source of infrastructure and workforce housing funding, provided solely by the city’s visitors, that is only available in Areas of Critical State Concern. This 1 percent bed tax levied on visitors would generate an estimated $130,000 annually for projects in Apalachicola. Mayor Van Johnson has said that, “updates to state statutes recognize Apalachicola’s unique situation as the only part of the county that remains an Area of Critical State Concern, and this funding can be used for important community needs such as infrastructure and new construction and rehabilitation of existing workforce housing.” Proposed statute amendments would require approval of a city-wide, rather than county-wide referendum, to implement the tax, allow the city to retain 100 percent of these funds, and support the naming of a local municipal decision-making body.

The passage of the Apalachicola Environmental Stewardship Bill is important to the well-being of our city. The city has taken positive steps to improve its financial position, resolve the debt default status, and implement improvements to our internal control system. Monroe County has successfully leveraged this state designation for years, and the city of Apalachicola could benefit in the same manner. This bill is part of our proactive approach to meet Apalachicola’s most critical needs.

The city presented its legislative agenda at the legislative delegation meeting held Wednesday, Jan. 30. The legislative session convenes March 5 and ends May 3.

Ron Nalley is the city manager of Apalachicola. He can be reached at rnalley@cityofapalachicola.com