Marco Island leaders ask legislators to back $425,000 in state funds for water project

During an annual meeting with the Collier County legislative delegation, Marco Island City Council Chairmain Jared Grifoni on Friday asked for $425,000 in state funds for the San Marco Road water project. 

The city would spend an additional $325,000 in city funds to complete the project, Grifoni told the delegation, which is comprised by Reps. Lauren Melo, Bob Rommel and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. Rep. David Borrero was not present.

The project would install dual 48-inch pipe culverts and an inlet structure under the San Marco Road, between Landmark Street and Copperfield Court, using an existing easement to link two large water basins separated by the roadway.

If completed, it would increase the amount of oxygen in the canal waters, improving the habitats for fish and wildlife, and reduce street flooding by allowing the water to circulate from one basin to another and vice versa, according to the city's request.

"City Council and the citizens of Marco Island are deeply invested in the improvement of water quality for our city but also for Southwest Florida," Grifoni said during his turn at the podium.

The San Marco Road tide leveling and flushing project involves installing dual 48-inch pipe culverts and an inlet structure between the two basins under the roadway, between Landmark Street and Copperfield Court, using an existing easement.

More:Marco Island to request $425,000 in state funds for San Marco Road water project

City Council selected the water quality project as a priority last month after it was recommended by city staff and Ron Book, the city's lobbyist, who spoke to council via the video conference application Zoom.

Timothy Pinter, director of the city's Public Works Department, said at the time the project is part of the city's 10-year master plan for drainage improvements.

"This was next in the priority list," he said.

Book said the city should request under $500,000 in state funds for a single project that would create local jobs because funding will be limited due to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state revenues.

"It's no secret that we got a monster revenue shortfall," he said.

Before Grifoni and other speakers had their chance at the podium, Passidomo told them to not get their hopes up in getting state funds for their local projects. Passidomo represents Senate District 28, which includes Marco Island.

Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni speaks during the Collier County legislative delegation meeting, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, at the North Collier Regional Park in North Naples.

"I think I can speak for both the Senate and the House, the budget funding for projects are going to be few and far between and in fact, because of our budget deficit, we are going take a deep dive into the base budget so I encourage you all who are asking for dollars to go ahead and file but don't get your hopes up," Passidomo said.

"We will do the best we can but I've been told by the president that there will be very few funded budget requests," she said.

In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $650,000 appropriation for the replacement of Marco Island's main fire station. DeSantis cut $1 billion in state spending due to the state's expected economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a $92.2 billion state budget for fiscal 2020-21.

Two other appropriations to improve water quality in the city's canals never reached DeSantis' desk, including the San Marco Road water project.

State Rep. Lauren Melo (R-Naples), foreground, State Rep. Bob Rommel (R-Napes) and State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) listen to a presentation by Marco Island City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni during a Collier County legislative delegation meeting, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, at the North Collier Regional Park in North Naples.

"You may recognize this project, it did come in front of you last year as well, so we are committed to getting this done," Grifoni said at the legislative delegation meeting. "We just need some assistance in getting there."

Florida's Department of Environmental Protection put the city of Marco Island on notice last year that its waterways are impaired and in need of a corrective plan.

In January, City Council approved a contract for the first phase of a study to evaluate and assess the source of nutrients affecting local waterways.

The water quality engineering firm Environmental Research and Design will submit a draft of the study to the city in March or April of next year and submit a final report in August or September, said Jason Tomassetti, the city's stormwater engineer.

Sovereign immunity

As part of the city's legislative priorities, City Council decided last month to support sovereign immunity, a state law which prohibits individuals from suing the state and its agencies, municipalities included, "in order to recover civil remedies — such as money damages — for injuries stemming from the performance of official government duties," according to the law firm Clark Fountain's website.

Marco Island City Manager Mike McNees attends the Collier County legislative delegation meeting, Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, at the North Collier Regional Park in North Naples.

The law waives sovereign immunity "for personal injuries caused by the negligent actions of the state committed within the course and scope of carrying out official government acts," but it also places caps on the amount plaintiffs can recover, according to the website.

Grifoni asked the delegation to stand united in opposition to any attempts to amend the law or raise the caps.

"We are very concerned as a city with any attempt to reduce or eliminate sovereign immunity," Grifoni said at the legislative delegation meeting.

"If there was ever a time when this issue may deserve some review it is certainly not now with all the financial concerns that are out here," he said.

Back in November, Book said there were continued talks to abolish or increasing the caps.

"If I were a city manager, if I were a finance director, I would be deeply concerned," he said.

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