The city of Apalachicola’s try at securing monies from the Florida Legislature for a variety of water and sewer needs did not fare well in the recent session.
But another arrow in its quiver, a $1.7 million federal funding package for drinking water improvements, in a done deal.
Funds were obligated on April 19, and they are beginning the process for bringing in bond counsel, said SheNeena Forbes, area specialist in Marianna for U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development.
The funds, comprised of a $1.23 million grant and a $474,000 long-term low-interest loan will fund the installation of a carbon filtration system, required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, to bring down levels of trihalomethanes, a byproduct of chlorination, in the municipal water.
The city also had its eye on securing millions for water and sewer improvements from the Florida Legislature, including a 10-year, $20 million annual appropriation from land acquisition monies based on the city’s status as an Area of Critical State Concern.
“This Stewardship Act had issues with language and most of the environmental community were against taking it from the pot of money we had,” said the city’s lobbyist Patrick Bell. “We said we were going to try land acquisition, and they said it’s not the right place, it should have been from Florida Forever monies.”
The situation, especially in regard to specific appropriation bills for water and sewer needs, was complicated by the fact District 7 did not have a state representative to herd the measures through the House. State Rep. Halsey Beshears was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January to head the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and his successor won’t be elected until June in a special election.
“Effectively we couldn’t get it up in the House to make an amendment, they (the environmentalists) lobbied against it. They didn’t agree with the funding source, and we didn’t have a member from our area,” said Bell.
He praised the fact that two other Florida state reps, Wengay “Newt” Newton, from St. Petersburg, and Ramon Alexander, from Gadsden County, rode in to sponsor both the Stewardship Act and one-time allocations for the 2019-20 budget, but nothing reached green pastures.
“We were out a House member and that hurt us in the House this year,” said Bell.
While Montford’s Senate sponsorship of the Stewardship act passed unanimously in committee, he did not get a floor vote, nor did the measure move in the House.
“It was a little bit late filed, that was a little bit of a problem, a very complicated bill to draft,” he said.
He said Mayor Van Johnson did “a phenomenal job” in his remarks to the committee, and that given the small percentage of bills passed in any given year, next year may prove more fruitful for passage.
Meanwhile, the Legislature set aside $25 million for the Department of Economic Opportunity to help hurricane affected areas. “There’s some things we maybe can do, they put different pockets of money in the hurricane monies,” Bell said. “The governor wanted some projects for the hurricane pulled out.”
Community Redevelopment Agency Director Augusta West, who worked with Forbes to secure the federal grant loan package, said once the filtration system is in place, and the city is back in compliance with trihalomethane levels, the state’s $100 per day fines will end.
She said once Inovia completes a three-month bidding process, and the site preparation work begins, construction will take about six months.
West said steps are already being taken to shore up state budget requests for the 2020 session.