Put everyone in line for canal fixes

By Steve Estes

As Monroe County moves forward on what may eventually be a $100 million project to restore water quality in residential canals, those in charge of the project have begun to ask the questions we feared would be the eventual answer.

During Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, commissioners were asked if homeowner financial participation should be part of the decision matrix for selecting which canals would be done, or in what order.

And that opens the door to a risk of further gentrification of the Keys.

We’re glad you asked, “how?”

Should the BOCC set a simple minimum in homeowner participation, those in lower valuation areas will pay significantly more in percentage of property values to get the same results as those in higher-value subdivisions.

And both areas will benefit from the same process, with, we suppose, the same results.

And the higher value subdivisions will be able to foot the bill more easily than the lower value subdivisions.

And does that mean the lower value subdivisions get put off until the end of the project because it’s harder to raise the money?

Or do they get cut out altogether if the homeowners can’t raise their share?

Should the BOCC set a percentage of total project cost as the benchmark for selection, some of the same problems mentioned before would still exist.

But there would be others added to the list.

In some areas, simple weed gates and aerators will be answer at a cost to the project of $20,000 to $50,000 and ongoing maintenance and operation costs.

But in other areas, where storm debris has been sitting at the bottom of the canal for nearly a decade and dredging is needed to clear up the problem, the percentage of that cost could be based on costs like $1 million.

Again, that puts the wealthier subdivisions on an uneven footing with those less well-heeled.

And for those canals that were initially dredged very deep and backfilling is an issue, where restoration costs might surpass the multi-million dollar mark, only those wealthier subdivisions would be able to afford the luxury of cleaner canal water through restoration projects.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy alluded to the problem Wednesday after she and her colleagues on the dais asked for staff to devise a program using such parameters and bring it back at a later date for further review.

She said to make sure that the process envisioned was more fair than the county’s current Rate of Growth Ordinance parameters, which she said, rightly, heavily favor the monied as they can buy extra land for dedication for ROGO points and rise to the top, streaking past middle-America in the quest for one of the few ROGO allocations each year to build more quickly.

Our suggestion would be to make sure that every property owner on a canal understands that the price of cleaner canals will be some participation in the form of future operational and maintenance costs, but that financial participation isn’t a requirement for selection.

The selection process should be based solely on those canals that need the restoration the most.

The dirtiest canals should be the first ones to get restored.

That’s a pretty simple process.

Yep. We know this will be expensive.

Yep. We know that the problem wasn’t caused by anything done in the last 20 years by anyone currently on the BOCC.

Yep. We know that unregulated building practices 50 or 60 years ago have led us to the point we are today where further strides in canal water quality require action from today’s generations.

Yep. We know that means someone has to bite the bullet.

But there is a way that we can enhance near-shore water quality without putting the burden on many who simply can’t afford any more financial hits, without ensuring that only the well-heeled can benefit from the program, and without asking dry lot owners to pay as much as those on canals, the latter of whom will obviously benefit the most from canal restoration projects. They will live on cleaner canals and be the recipient of the increased property values that brings.

This is a problem that begs a targeted solution, similar to the one taken by Breeeswept Beach Estates years ago where they voted to institute a special taxing district to pay for culverts to enhance the water quality of their canals.

Something similar on a larger scale, targeting those who will benefit the most, should be part of the discussion.

Let’s not bring back the simple, yet patently unfair, answer to a complex problem.

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