Barbara Powell joined the Monroe County Planning and Environmental Resources department this week as the new Planning Policy Advisor. Powell comes to Monroe County from the State of Florida Department of Commerce (formerly the Department of Economic Opportunity), where she managed the Area of Critical State Concern program, including the Florida Keys, Key West, Green Swamp, Big Cypress, and Apalachicola Bay, and most recently held the position of Deputy Bureau Chief, overseeing multiple planning programs and staff. Many County staff have worked closely with Powell over the years, and she brings technical expertise and more than 15 years of knowledge specific to the Florida Keys’ comprehensive planning history. Powell will be assisting and advising on high-level applications and policy initiatives.
COUNTY PARTNERS FOR NEW SITES FOR AFFORDABLE HOMEOWNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT WITH UPPER KEYS HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
KEY LARGO AND TAVERNIER, FL – Monroe County Land Authority Governing Board approved purchasing new sites to redevelop affordable homeownership units in Tavernier and Key Largo today. The County will own and lease the sites to Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys to redevelop those sites consistent with neighborhood character. “This assures long-term affordability in perpetuity,” said Monroe County Land Authority Chairman and County Commissioner David Rice.
One of the projects is within Tavernier near mile marker 92, which will be redeveloped into six new affordable units to replace dilapidated trailers that previously occupied the site. The second two sites are in Key Largo on Hibiscus Lane near mile marker 101, where two replacement homes will be constructed.
“I am very excited about this project since sites appropriate for the development of affordable housing are hard to find in the Upper Keys,” said Monroe County Land Authority Executive Director Christine Hurley. “The Land Authority can buy land for affordable housing without established, protected habitat, so finding sites with previous development, ready for redevelopment, is a priority.”
Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys is the development partner that works with local families to pay no more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Recently, Habitat developed four affordable housing units at Esslinger Heights in Tavernier and is currently working on eight units at Gardenia Place across from Plantation Key School, plus another two affordable single-family homes in Key Largo.
“These eight units will increase homeownership opportunities for families who live and work in the Florida Keys and provide a step up for their future,” said Habitat Executive Director Lindsay Fast. “We are so appreciative of the support from the Monroe County Land Authority to continue our mission of building affordable housing.”
MONROE COUNTY – Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Lincoln represented the Florida Keys this past week in Washington, D.C., including in a valuable panel focusing on the challenges to intergovernmental collaboration in disaster resilience. The panel discussed access to federal funds, mitigating risk, and other issues.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) facilitated an intergovernmental roundtable on disaster mitigation in conjunction with the annual legislative conference. About 50 federal, state, and county leaders for a day-long roundtable discussed building capacity for resilience and disaster mitigation. Lincoln is slated to be the next Florida Association of Counties President and was invited to speak about Monroe County’s experience in successfully accessing federal support during an emergency.
“Lincoln represented Monroe County’s experience in our successful post-disaster recovery and securing grant funding for our efforts to build future resilience,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.
Lincoln also met with the offices of Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and Congressman Gimenez to discuss new earmark requests and the progress made on prior year’s earmarks, like for the Twin Lakes Key Largo project that is out to bid. They also discussed other federal issues and priorities, like National Flood Insurance Program protections, Risk Rating 2.0, resilience funding, Everglades restoration, and Veterans issues.
MONROE COUNTY – The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners welcomes Hanna Koch from The Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration at Mote Marine Laboratory in Summerland Key, as the new Monroe County Artificial Reefs director. She will start the position on April 1, 2024.
Koch is leaving her current position as a staff scientist and program manager for the coral reproduction research program to develop the new department that will oversee the creation of an artificial reef program. She holds a Doctorate in Natural Sciences, a Master’s in Biology, and a Bachelor’s in Marine Science.
“Her background in SCUBA diving, reef reproduction and restoration, grant writing, local stakeholder connections, and teaching appear to be the perfect match of what we are looking for in this new position,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi. “Her passion and understanding of our ecologically sensitive marine environment will benefit our residents and visitors who enjoy our waters now and in the future.”
Employee Services received 54 applicants for the role. The Artificial Reef director is a new position. Koch will have the key responsibilities to develop the framework for the future of the artificial reef program, establish goals and objectives, coordinate the needs of the community, handle public inquiries regarding the program, find sites, monitor grant agreements, and oversee the creation, permitting, maintenance, and monitoring of the sites and any staffing that may be needed, among many other things.
In August 2023, Monroe County was awarded $10 million from the State to start an artificial reef program in the Florida Keys. Artificial reefs can help take pressure off of local natural reefs. “This is just the beginning, but we hope to set up a network of habitats from shallow to deep water that will support natural habitats and fish stocks,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.
The first project on her list may include using 37 50-feet hollow power poles the County acquired from the Florida Keys Electric Co-op’s Sea Oats Beach project in Islamorada. Other projects suggested included using concrete fish domes and other ideas used in other counties across the State. Koch plans to work with other counties in Florida who have successful programs.
“I look forward to continuing to advocate for our marine environment, engaging with the community to hear their thoughts and ideas, and using a science-based approach for developing structures that will support our marine habitats and natural resources,” said Koch.
There are more than 4,000 clusters of artificial reefs in Florida, and 37 coastal counties in Florida already have an artificial reef program in place. In the Florida Keys, 62 artificial reefs, including wrecks, mainly were placed between 1982 and 1989. The most recent artificial reef placed in Florida Keys waters was the Vandenberg off Key West in 2009. Artificial reef sites are popular among divers and fishermen.
MONROE COUNTY, FL – The biggest question Solid Waste Recycling Outreach Coordinator Melody Tuschel receives when meeting with local civic groups is, “Does Monroe County really recycle?” Many people say they see their recycles go in the same truck that collects the trash, but Tuschel says her greatest challenge is letting people know that Monroe County really does recycle and how to do it right so it ends up at the mainland recycling center.
Tuschel gave a recycling update to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday on her past six months in the position. “We must all come together to walk the walk,” she said regarding recycling. Tuschel has been busy visiting classrooms and businesses, and meeting with County department heads and staff, rotaries, chambers, and HOAs. She recently audited local parks and beaches to increase recycling, start upcycling projects and craft days at local libraries, and started a recycling ambassador program.
She is working toward encouraging good behavior, teaching residents, visitors, and students about food waste, where the pizza box goes (in the trash, not the recycle bin), and the harmful effects of styrofoam.
Her goals for 2024 include improving multi-family housing participation, encouraging recycling clubs at local schools, encouraging the use of reusable items in schools, improving county recycling facilities, pushing the use of reusable bags while shopping, and continuing outreach programs.
Tuschel is available to meet with civic groups and students to discuss recycling. She can be reached at email@example.com or 305-509-0325.
CHRISTOPHER WHITE, SOLID WASTE ENVIRONMENTAL SPECIALIST, NAMED MONROE COUNTY’S EMPLOYEE OF THE FOURTH QUARTER 2023
MONROE COUNTY, FL – Christopher White, Solid Waste Environmental Specialist, is named Monroe County’s Employee of the Fourth Quarter for 2023 for exceeding job expectations, noteworthy performance, and his positive impact on his co-workers and community. He started with the County in April 2022 and was recognized by the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting.
White was nominated for the recognition by two of his co-workers. Transfer Station Operator Kevin Kopp said his attitude is excellent, and he always goes out of his way to help customers during hazardous household waste collection. Another co-worker, Bob Henry, said White goes above and beyond inspecting for leaky hazardous waste containers, regularly helps out during storms to drive clam trucks to remove downed trees, and works the scale when needed. “He often gives useful tips and tricks to properly dispose of waste in the safest possible way without spilling or getting it on the ground,” said Henry.
KEY LARGO, FL –The Card Sound Road Resurfacing Project includes the installation of “ground-in” rumble strips along the centerline and outside edges of the lanes to reduce lane departure accidents. The installation process uses large equipment that will sometimes extend into both lanes of traffic.
To complete the work safely, Card Sound Road will be closed from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 5 and Tuesday, Feb. 6 into the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 7, from the intersection of C.R. 905 at the south/east end to just west of the Monroe County toll plaza on the north/west end near the Monroe County line. The closures will not impact the Miami-Dade section of CR 905.
EXTENSION OF SLOW SPEED MINIMUM WAKE ZONE IN TAVERNIER CREEK TO BE DISCUSSED AT JAN. 31 BOCC MEETING
MONROE COUNTY, FL – The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will consider a proposal to begin the process of adding to the existing Slow Speed Minimum Wake (SSMW) zone in Tavernier Creek at their Jan. 31, 2024, meeting based on safety concerns raised by the Village of Islamorada. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center and via Zoom conference.
The existing SSMW zone encompasses approximately 70 percent of Tavernier Creek. The Village of Islamorada approached the County to extend this zone to cover the remainder of the creek, including two blind bends and two blind corners.
A recent survey conducted by the County observed that the navigable portion of the waterway in the new area to be covered is approximately 100 feet wide. The challenging conditions of swift currents, limited visibility, and increased vessel traffic, as highlighted by the Village’s request, indicate a potential safety hazard.
“We saw multiple kayaks, two boats fishing at anchor, a 50-foot charter vessel, and various pleasure craft in just a short transit of the creek,” said Brittany Burtner, Monroe County Marine Resources Senior Administrator. “The safety concerns are evident, and the Village’s proposal aligns with the need for reduced vessel speed in this area.”
The existing caution buoys marking the blind bends in the area emphasize the need for precaution. The Village’s request is grounded in safety considerations and aligns with the criteria outlined in Florida Administrative Code Rule 68D-21.004(2)(b), addressing bends or obstructions affecting visibility in narrow channels. If the BOCC directs staff to move forward, Marine Resources will pursue permitting a zone to cover the remainder of the creek, which includes a local ordinance and review by state officials.
To see the BOCC agenda or watch the meeting, visit www.monroecounty-fl.gov/meetings.
2023 was a year of celebration as Monroe County entered its 200th anniversary, and today, our commissioners and staff continue to enhance the quality of the lives of our citizens, business owners, and visitors. I am proud of our commissioners and employees’ remarkable accomplishments in 2023.
Department highlights from this past year include:
2024 will be a year for community-wide courageous communication as we navigate through many critical challenges that will shape the future of the Florida Keys, from our Rate of Growth Ordinance and hurricane evacuation modeling to transportation issues and more.
For the past 15.5 years as Monroe County Administrator, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has been committed to creating a better life, every day, for everyone in the Florida Keys. We will continue to have open discussions and workshops about our future, and we will strive to make our island home a safe and enjoyable place to live, work, and play.
Cheers in Paradise
Monroe County Administrator
KEY LARGO, FL - The Annual Orange Bowl Winter Training and Orange Bowl Swim Classic took place today at Jacobs Aquatic Center in Key Largo -- a prime spot for the event at a Monroe County park. The Orange Bowl Swim Classic is an official Orange Bowl event, held annually on January 3rd, and is an integral part of the month-long Orange Bowl festivities, highlighted by the nationally televised Orange Bowl Football Classic.
Jacobs Aquatic Center features a 25-meter, 8-lane pool with 9-foot lanes, non-turbulent lane lines, and a dive well. Completed in June 2002, Jacobs Aquatic Center has earned a reputation as a first-class facility.
To learn more about the Jacobs Aquatic Center, visit http://jacobsaquaticcenter.org/.
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