Armed with the services of a prestigious lobbying firm, and the support of both of its legislators in Tallahassee, Apalachicola has buoyant hopes it may this year be able to capitalize monetarily on its status as an Area of Critical State Concern.
Mayor Brenda Ash and City Manager Travis Wade have been to Tallahassee to meet with both State Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee) and State Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe).
Simon has authored Senate Bill 702, and Shoaf House Bill HB 407, each with identical wording.
Beginning July 1, the start of the 2023-24 fiscal year, and continuing through the 2027 – 28 fiscal year, the bills say that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection “may expend up to $5 million each fiscal year for the purpose of entering into financial assistance agreements with the City of Apalachicola to implement projects that improve surface water and groundwater quality within the Apalachicola Bay Area of Critical State Concern.”
These projects could include constructing stormwater management and central sewage collection facilities, installing onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems, direct and indirect potable reuse, and other water quality and water supply projects.
All of Franklin County, excluding Alligator Point, was designated in 1985 for this ACSC distinction, described as “intended to protect resources and public facilities of major statewide significance, within designated geographic areas, from uncontrolled development that would cause substantial deterioration of such resources.”
All of the county but the city of Apalachicola was removed in 1993 from the ACSC designation, which continues to be held by the Big Cypress portion of Collier, Miami Dade and Monroe counties; the Green Swamp area of Polk and Lake counties; and the city of Key West and the Florida Keys.
The Keys have secured millions in monies due to their status as an Area of Critical State Concern, and that success is a key reason why Apalachicola has turned to the Southern Group, a high-profile Tallahassee lobbying firm, at a cost of $2,500 a month.
Kate DeLoach, who lives in the Keys, is the Southern Group’s point person on Apalachicola’s proposed legislation. The lobbying firm had briefed key legislators, including the Keys’ State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and State Rep. Jim Mooney, on what Apalachicola is seeking.
Wade said he and Ash met with these legislators, as well as key staffers on committees through which the bills must pass. In the House, Shoaf’s bill is now before the Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee; In the Senate, it has to go through the Environment and Natural Resources committee, which Rodriguez chairs.
“When we walked around, it was clear the lobbyists had already spoken with them,” said Wade. “They’ve been working on our behalf pretty hard. Every meeting we had was very positive.”