Cities to name members to oil money panel

The Monroe County Commission has given Florida Keys cities 30 days to come up with appointments to a committee that will oversee the doling out of millions of dollars flowing into the county from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines.

Each city will make one appointment to the 11-member committee. Each county commissioner will appoint a member, and the county mayor will appoint two members.

The County Commission wants the committee seated by the end of April, commissioners said Wednesday at their monthly meeting, held in Key Largo.

The committee will make recommendations on what restoration projects will be funded with money received from Clean Water Act fines levied on BP and Transocean, the companies responsible for the oil rig spill in 2010. The fines are levied through the federal (Gulf of Mexico) Restore Act.

The Florida Keys are expected to receive between $5.8 million and $23.2 million, according to estimates given to Monroe County officials. Last month, the county received confirmation on the first $1.2 million, County Mayor George Neugent said.

The county’s state lobbyist, Peggy Matthews, gave a presentation on the Restore Act at Wednesday’s meeting in which she said the county was in a good position to receive Restore Act money because it is the only Florida county that is home to a national marine sanctuary and the county plans to use its money for water quality projects.

“Water quality is Florida’s No. 1 focus,” Matthews said, paraphrasing comments by statewide Restore Act committee member Grover Robinson.

Last week, Mayor Neugent was selected to the statewide Restore Act committee.

Zip line funding

The County Commission also clipped $85,000 in funding for Crane Point Hammock park in Marathon for the creation of a controversial zip-line canopy tour.

A company called Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust is partnering with Crane Point Hammock to build a zip-line tour at the park. Land and Sea Trust had been given an $85,000 Tourist Development Council (TDC) grant from the Monroe County government in 2011.

However, Land and Sea Trust has yet to use the grant and has now twice asked for an extension, as the group said it needed more time to complete the project.

The County Commission on Wednesday denied Land and Sea’s latest request for an extension. As part of receiving the grant funding, the money generally needs to be spent in the year it’s given.

The group first applied for an extension in April 2012, records show.

Some Crane Point Hammock members have canceled their membership to the park because of the zip line plan, according to a group of former members who spoke at the meeting against the project.

They argued the zip line is not in the best interest of the birds and other wildlife in the park.

County Commissioners Sylvia Murphy, Danny Kolhage and Heather Carruthers questioned if the park has the finances to complete the project.

“You need to go back to the TDC and prove it can be done,” Kolhage said. “You have to prove this is a viable project.”

Commercial businesses

The commission discussed the best way to accommodate new, small strip-malls and other businesses.

County planning staff wants to make it easier to allocate space for new commercial businesses and for owners of existing businesses to expand their space.

As an Area of Critical State Concern, both commercial and residential development in the Keys is limited under a program called the Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO).

Business owners have to apply with the county for commercial ROGO space to place a new business or expand a current one.

The county has 389,991 square feet of commercial ROGO, or “NROGO” as it is called, that it has never allocated and has “banked,” county Growth Management Director Christine Hurley said.

Hurley wants to make it easier to allocate some of the banked NROGO and “simplify the process,” she said. Under one proposal, existing business owners could expand their businesses by 1,000 square feet or less without having to go through the NROGO process.

Hurley took comments from commissioners and will now work on a new system for handling NROGO, which will eventually go back before the commission for approval.

Fishing study grant

The commission postponed making a decision on giving the fishing conservation group Bonefish Tarpon Trust $25,000 for a study to determine how much flats and backcountry fishing brings to Monroe County each year.

The commission will vote on giving the money when it meets in March in Marathon.

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