09 April 2024

Key West considering borrowing $300 million - Weekly briefing - April 9, 2024

Essential human-curated Florida Keys news, all in one place. 

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$300 million KW bond referendum under consideration. In a workshop meeting on April 3, the Key West city commission reviewed a proposal to put a referendum on November's ballot for voters to authorize borrowing up to $300 million for a lengthy list of infrastructure projects
Record hurricane forecast. An "extremely active" hurricane season is likely, according to forecasters from Colorado State University. The forecast includes the highest number of hurricanes ever predicted in an April forecast by Colorado State since the team began releasing predictions in 1995.

Abortion ban, referendum. Local, regional, and national news media offered perspectives on the six-week abortion ban will soon take effect in Florida after the state Supreme Court upheld a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but agreed to let voters will have a say on removing those restrictions.
  • Turnout surge? The referendum, along with a separate one to allow recreational cannabis use, is expected to drive increased voter turnout. 
Annex Key Haven, south Stock Island? The Key West planning board voted unanimously in February to urge the city commission to “initiate an annexation study for portions of Key Haven and Stock Island.” 

Sawfish rescue effort. In an effort led by NOAA Fisheries and FWC in partnership with four Florida-based and national organizations, teams were given the green light to rescue ailing fish and transport them to quarantine facilities for observation, research and rehabilitation.

Sargassum report. Linda Cunningham warned us that while waters are mostly clear now, lurking off the horizon is a record-breaking sargassum bloom, one experts worry could be the worst we’ve seen. The Keys are a bellwether for looming global environmental and economic disaster.

No love for dietary opportunists. Mark Hedden wrote about turkey vultures. Carry on, Mark

Our Eyes

Almost to the top - Sarah Carlton

Previously in Key West Voices

TDC executive director fired. The Monroe County Tourism Development Council Board fired its top employee, marketing director Stacey Mitchell, in a unanimous vote Tuesday, five months after a county audit questioned her job performance and ethics. Mitchell, who has been on paid leave since November, was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the TDC, the county's marketing arm. 
  • See you in court? Mitchell's attorney told the board that Mitchell is being “thrown under the bus,” and may be preparing a wrongful termination lawsuit. 
Abortion and marijuana referenda approved for November ballot. The Florida Supreme court issued separate opinions allowing each proposed amendment referendum to appear on the general election ballot in November. Florida Constitutional Amendment referenda must receive at least 60% approval by voters to be enacted.  
ROGO reality check. As part of Monroe County's cautious consideration of the contentious decision later this year to allocate new residential building permits under the County's Rate of  Growth Ordinance, analysis by the County revealed that fewer than 3,000 properties could be eligible to receive new permits, far fewer than the nearly 8,000 parcels long-believed to be eligible. 
  • Evacuation model. Under ROGO, new residential development is required to be capped when it would take more than 24 hours to evacuate the Keys in advance of an approaching tropical storm. But the model, run every decade by FloridaComerce using census data, is only the beginning of a controversial political process in which the numbers have previously been fudged and the county's decision preempted by the Florida legislature to allow more permits to be issued. The county plans a series of workshops to engage the public with the decision
  • No submerged lots. The new estimate is based on applying zoning requirements that would allow construction on the lots, such as removing those that are essentially submerged land.
  • Mythbusting. Monroe County attorney Derek Howard's detailed presentation deconstructed the concept of 'takings,'' the Constitutional protection of  property owners from uncompensated government interference in using their property. The threat of takings liability has been used to justify a push for issuing more permits.
  • Far fewer. County staffers Emily Schemper and Christine Hurley presented the result of their review of properties that might actually risk takings liability to the county.
  • Capacity of the Keys. Keys Weekly published an opinion piece that looked at the concept of capacity beyond just the hurricane evacuation model
  • Construction delays. The commission decided not to update the traffic study because there are currently excessive construction delays.
  • Traffic signal timing. The Florida Department of Transportation is still working on retiming the traffic lights along U.S. 1.
  • Failing grade overlooked. Had the BOCC accepted the 2023 study, it would have been required to suspend all new commercial development until the failing sections had been remediated; instead the BOCC approved the new Publix for Tavernier.  
New Pier B lease ignores opposition. DeSantis and his state environmental regulators approved a new lease for Pier B that increases the size of ships that can call there

Disney, DeSantis settle. Under the headline, "Ron DeSantis Claims Victory Over Disney And All He Had To Do Was Give Disney Everything They Wanted," lawyer website "Above the Law" deconstructed what they contend was a humiliation for DeSantis. 

Fish rescue. As scientists continue to investigate the cause of hundreds of fish spinning and nearly 30 dead sawfish in the Lower Florida Keys in recent months, federal and state governments will soon start a program to capture and rehabilitate sawfish and then return them to the wild.
  • Unprecedented. An rescue of this kind has never been done before in the United States.
  • No answers yet. Scientists hot on the trail of the root cause behind unprecedented sawfish deaths and spinning fish throughout the Florida Keys say they don’t have all the answers yet. But thanks to new information unearthed in a massive collaborative effort over the last three months, they could be on the right path.
LKMC may someday become a new type of  'hospital.' The Associated Press reported that as rural hospitals continue to struggle financially, a new type of hospital is slowly taking root, especially in the Southeast. No overnight beds. 
Just, well, bad. Linda Cunningham watched the new Road House movie set in the Keys, and panned it so we wouldn't have to see it
  • Mayors agree. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston didn’t much appreciate the “drug-filled and crime-ridden portrayal of the Florida Keys, and Monroe County Mayor Holly Raschein said “the only accurate depiction of the Florida Keys was their local attraction, Fred the Tree on the Seven Mile Bridge.
NeglectChris Hamilton used a basketball metaphor to mourn the ridership decline of the Duval Loop

Category 5 rare bird. Mark Hedden captured a photo of a pearly-eyed thrasher, that while common in much of the Caribbean, had never before been reported in North America