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DeSantis OK’s $650K for Key Biscayne pilot program to clean filthy stormwater runoff

Gov. Ron DeSantis, using the waters of Biscayne Bay as a backdrop, announced approval of $650,000 Thursday for a pilot program to use green technology to combat street flooding caused by sea level rise. 

The funding is part of about $23 million for various Biscayne Bay water quality projects, making good on what DeSantis said was his administration’s commitment to be “good stewards of Biscayne Bay.” 

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The Key Biscayne projects approved will install green infrastructure along the right-of-way of a flood prone corridor along West Heather Drive from Allendale to Palmwood, according to the State Department of Environmental Protection. 

The village sought the funds to see how well bioswales, porous materials and native plants might improve filtration of stormwater as it is pushed back into the bay after storms and heavy rain. The question of moving much larger volumes of filthy runoff water back into the fragile bay has prompted a review of ways to treat and filter stormwater. 

Key Biscayne is planning to install pressurized drainage lines as part of an estimated $250 million set of projects to boost resilience on the barrier island off Miami.

The state funding will help test water quality to evaluate the technology, said DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.

The funding is a bit of a windfall for Key Biscayne, which did not anticipate winning the money in its future year capital budgets, said Village Manager Steve Williamson. 

“It’s something we didn’t bank on,” Williamson said. “We requested, we hoped.” He added: “We are obviously very excited.” 

Williamson noted the funding is separate from a different matching grant to test water collection technology that was the source of some debate before the Village Council. The council put a  $56,000 contract award for collections systems on hold after questions were raised by Council Members Ed London and Brett Moss. The larger funding announced by the governor is not a match, but an outright grant. 

Williamson said the village will reach out to the state’s program manager to develop a testing plan, timetable, and contract award framework. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco as Village Manager Steve Williamson, center, watches, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. At Bill Baggs Cape Florida State park, DeSantis announced $650,000 in funding for a pilot project in Key Biscayne to test green stormwater technologies (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

The governor focused on hurricane resilience in his remarks, taking time to praise his administration for swiftly restoring a causeway to Sanibel Island washed out by Hurricane Ian. But when asked how the state might help secure the Rickenbacker Causeway and the Bear Cut bridge, DeSantis didn’t have an answer for the vulnerable roadway and bridge he’d just driven over, saying only that bridges are subject to regular inspections. 

The Village has said engineering data on the bridge has shown the aging structure could be washed out by a major hurricane. It has mapped out a vision for handling traffic on the Causeway that is currently under review by Miami-Dade County. 

County officials have already started preliminary environmental study work on replacing the Bear Cut, built in the 1940s, but the current timetable envisions a new bridge being finished around 2030. 

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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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