The future of Florida really is about sustainability

When we’re talking about anything that might be green, we’re talking about sustainability. Water quality is, of course, included in that, and in Key West, that’s a big deal.

Alison Higgins, Key West Sustainability Coordinator, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the future plans for the area. 

Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a controversial Everglades bill yesterday. The decision is seen as a positive for fisherman because it deals with runoff. 

Higgins said, “Anything that happens to the Everglades greatly affects the rest of us down here. It all flows downhill. It’s been really great. DeSantis has been really strong.” 

The Florida state budget actually had a lot money earmarked for restoration. 

Higgins explained, “It’s the runoff that’s really making the biggest issue in Florida Bay with all the fish kills, so if we can clean up that water before it hits our pristine areas, all the better.”

Right now Key West is working on climate change issues and adaptation on sea level rise. 

The City’s very first efficiency project has brought in software from the Environmental Protection Agency’s portfolio manager and it’s free for all commercial buildings. You plug in all the info of your commercial building and it looks at other similar buildings with similar uses and gives the building owner a score. 

Higgins explained, “The beauty about getting a bad score is the city has some 300 buildings, so that makes it easier for you to figure out which ones to start with. Where are you going to get the biggest bang for your buck?” 

The police department is one of the buildings the efficiency project will be looking at. The police department is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

They will begin with LED lighting for the entire department and that should in the end save about $2,400 a month. 

Higgins said, “There’s so many things that the city spends money on that there’s no repayment, so to actually have something we can put money into that gives us money back, then we can use that to do the next project.” 

Next year, the efficiency project is already looking at three different buildings. 

Additionally, the group is investigating electric vehicles and how the city can transition into them. There is an EV charger at city hall. The hotels have a lot of chargers, but they aren’t exactly publicly available. 

The adaptation of sea level rise has seen a lot of activity for the city, too. Key West has always been low and the sea has always been rising and adjustments have been made for a while now. 

Higgins said, “The only thing that’s different now is we now know that it will keep rising and we’ve got a fairly good idea at least in the next 30, 40 years how much that rising is going to be.” 

With a series of grants, Key West was able to secure a pretty decent amount of money to create an adaptation plan. 

The plan has eight chapters, with each chapter doing a deep dive into specific areas, such as health, the historic district, housing and economic redevelopment.

It will also include a public workshop and then priorities will be chosen and a 10-year budget will be created.

Higgins said, “That’s what’s really helpful when another grant cycle comes up for actual, on-the-ground implementation money. If I’ve got my little playbook, I can just, page one, send that in and we’ve got most of the work already done to write a really good grant application and we can say we already went through a priority process and this is our number one priority right now.”

The whole thing is still is still in the planning process, but it’s well on the way to making the future really bright for Key West.

The city is grateful to Monroe County for their willingness to partner with other municipalities, particularly when it comes to sea level rise.

Higgins said, “When they did their first round for the road vulnerability study, they reached out to the other five local governments, of which we’re the largest, and said, hey would you like to be on the same page as us and get to the same level?”

Of course, the city said yes.

So mobile LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) has been purchased with a partnership with all the municipalities. It’s a car that will drive the streets and be able to measure the entire right-of-way down to a handful of centimeters.

Higgins said, “That helps us model what we can do for each road segment. Because we’re doing it together, there’s an economy of scale we wouldn’t have had before.”

The city will also go through the same prioritization process that the county has done, where they broke down the streets down to segments and looked at how low it is and what they called its criticality. Was it a major road? Did it connect to a school, a church, a hospital?

That helps give each road segment a score and ranks each of them in which is most important to work on.

Higgins said, “Our major roads in Key West are not ours. They’re either the state’s or they’re the county’s. You’ve got all these major pieces that we don’t have true control over, but Flagler, already when you have super high tides, you lose one of the lanes west bound for about three or four blocks.”

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