Cleaning up the Canals, Monroe County, FL (S1E11)
Developers created miles and miles of beautiful waterfront coastline, but that also created water so polluted you couldn’t sit outside — the smell was putrid. But Monroe County realized that water was their lifeblood. Listen and hear very forward-thinking ideas that are bringing back fish life into now clean waters —-one canal at a time.
Transcription Clear blue water and deep dirty problems, how the Florida Keys are cleaning their polluted waterways (S1E11)
Carol: This is the good government show.
Rhonda Haag: The shoreline habitat, especially the mangroves, was a lot of it was destroyed. The canals were discharging water directly to the nearshore waters and damaging that, and we had our marine water for being polluted offshore. So all of these impacts on these canal developments was what happened when humans moved here, and as growth continued, it got exponentially bigger and much more, impact.
Greg Corning: So, you know, over the years, you know, since that time frame, it’s been a slowly degraded system. It’s been degrading ever since and you know, with with other combinations of factors, you know, you have, you know, the storm water and you have this, you have the septic tanks and other things that were causing issues as well.
David: On this episode of The Good Government show, we’re going to go to one of my favorite places on Earth. The fabulous Florida Keys. It’s the tropics in the continental United States. It’s the end of the rainbow. It’s the Caribbean you can drive to.
It’s a land of conch chowder. Frozen runners Jimmy Buffett. It’s where the only acceptable dessert is key lime pie. It’s white sand and clear blue water. It’s the sport fishing capital of America. It’s all spread over 800 islands that make up the Florida Keys, Did I I mention.
It’s my favorite place on Earth. Welcome to the good government show. And this week we’re traveling south. In fact, as far south in the U.S. as you can go down A1A south of Miami, to Monroe County, the Florida Keys, where they’re working on restoring clean, clear water to about 100 beautiful canals throughout the keys.
Hi, I’m David Martin and this is the good government show.
Carol: And hi, I’m Carol D’auria.
David: And welcome to the last show of the first season of the Good Government Show.
Carol: And it really has been a fun first season.
David: It was we’ve we’ve really heard some great stories and I’ve got a really good one for you today.
Carol: Oh, so tell me about The Keys and I have to admit I was there, but it was a really long time ago. So from your eyes, what makes The Keys special?
David: All right. Well, it’s been a long time. So stop what you’re doing. Pack up. Book a flight to Miami. Take your kids, their boyfriends, their girlfriends. Everybody get in your car and head south. Just head south, no matter what road you take or how you drive.
You’ll soon find yourself on A1A headed to Key Largo. I have traveled a lot around these United States, but for me, the best drive in the U.S. is down overseas Highway Florida City past Alabama Jackson Card Sound Road into Key Largo.
Over the seven Mile Bridge, Marathon Key and ending up in Key West.
Carol: OK, those sound like great directions, but what makes it your favorite place is at palm trees?
David: All right, well, here’s one example. All right. As you head south, heading south on A1A, it’s bright and sunny. You look out your left side, it’s the blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. You look on the right side, it’s a blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s Florida Bay. You drive over the seven Mile Bridge. This connects the middle Keys and the lower Keys. And all you see for seven miles, it’s clear blue water.
Carol: I will admit that does sound like paradise.
David: It is. And when you get into Key West, actually you’re closer to Cuba because it’s just 90 miles away. In fact, in Key West, you’re closer to Cuba than you are to downtown Miami. So when you end the road, when you get to the end of the road.
There’s this giant sign that says “The End of the Rainbow Tropical Vacation Land.” They don’t call it the fabulous Florida Keys for nothing.
Carol: OK, so you sold me on my next vacation. But like, what do you do when you get there?
David: Well. OK, Key West and the keys. This is where Jimmy Buffett create an empire. It’s the actual home of Margaritaville, and it’s right there on Duvall Street. And Duvall Street, it’s about a mile long. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
You can stop into places like Sloppy Joes. Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. If you’re lucky, you can visit The Keys during Hemingway Days. The town is overrun with Hemingway look alikes. It’s pretty wild. Or you could just sip a cocktail at LaTeDa’s under the palm trees.
And then there’s Fantasy Fest, and this is a week long party leading up to Halloween. We’re not everyone’s naked just looks that way. It’s really body paint that’s just Key West.
Carol: OK, well, I’m not a body paint girl. Just in case you had any thoughts, but you said 800 islands. So what else is The Keys famous for?
David: Are you really sure about this?
Carol: I’m absolutely positive, David.
David: All right. All right. All right. Well, forget that then. Well, I’ll tell you what. How about just a bathing suit or a wetsuit? Why don’t you head up to Key Largo? John Pennekamp State Park first Underwater Park in the U.S. If you don’t dive, you can snorkel or stay in Key Largo.
You can take a cruise on the actual African Queen. Humphrey Bogart is not going to be your captain, unfortunately, or you can head south to Islamorada and go fishing. Catch the marlin catching sailfish. Some fresh dolphin. Some of the best, freshest fish you’ll ever have in your life.
And I never miss a stop at the tiki bar, and this is where the run runnner was invented.
Carol: Rum runner, what’s that?
David: Oh, OK, OK. This is my favorite cocktail. All right. So it’s three different kinds of rum. It’s banana and BlackBerry brandy, a little OJ, some pineapple juice all frozen up in a blender. You may never leave the bar or The Keys again.
Yep, that’s right. Or just head south to Marathon. Stop into Bahai Honda State Park. They’re still cleaning up the hurricane, but there’s a great campsite there. There’s an amazing beach. It’s a great destination in The Keys.
Up and down The Keys, you can fish, you can dive, you can sip cocktails, you can eat, you can take a boat out, you can swim or just sit in Morada Bay or Malloy Market Square and just watch the sunset.
Carol: Well, I’m ready to make my reservations now, but is there a story here or are you just wishing you were in The Keys right now?
David: Well, actually, I’ve kind of always wish I was in The Keys. But yes, there is a story here, and it’s actually all this beauty that created a problem. And just now, the folks in The Keys are addressing that. And that is dirty water and a major effort underway to clean up water that was created when all these people moved into The Keys.
Carol: Dirty water in a diving and fishing paradise. That’s not a good combination.
David: No, it really isn’t. But first, let me give you a little Keys history.
Carol: Is there a rum in this story?
David: Yes, there’s rum and everything connected to The Keys, at least for me, anyway. So sip just laid back, sip the rum runner and age, and I’ll tell you the story. OK, so the keys actually, the word comes from the Spanish word Cayo Key West used to be called Cayo Oeste, which is, you know, Key West.
Key West is both the most southern and most western of the keys, and for many years, Key West, one of the most active cities in Florida it was a major shipping port between Cuba and the Caribbean and New Orleans.
It’s been both the richest and poorest town, the U.S., around 1900. They built a railroad that connected Key West and Miami that started folks moving down into the keys and eventually overseas highway connecting people by car. So people started to move in and start to find this place.
President Harry Truman used a navy base down there as his quarters and winter White House, so that put the keys on the map. And then, after World War two ends servicemen who were stationed in Florida, they started to move back to the state.
And that’s really what the keys and all Florida development took off.
Carol: Well, it’s a great history lesson, but you did leave out the rum.
David: Oh my mistake. OK, so prohibition comes, and the keys are a great spot for rum runners because they would move the rum up from Cuba and the Caribbean slipped them into Florida speakeasies. So today’s rum runner is a tribute to their efforts.
So cheers to them. Thanks for the rum. So be patriotic. Drink a rum runner.
Carol: OK, I got it. Beautiful islands, lots of water, wild parties all served with rum. But you need to focus here. What is the government doing for The Keys?
David: Okay. Right, right, right. OK. OK, so what they did is is they’re essentially cleaning up what the developers of the 1950s and the 1960s created. Those guys, back then they created basically stagnant water, unhealthy environments and basically made some of the most beautiful real estate almost inhabitable.
Carol: That really sounds disgusting.
David: Right, and you know that rotten egg smell that you get that right?
David: That’s what they were smelling, and that’s the thing that they had to fix.
Carol: So with all that, it sounds like people can’t even use the water at their own house.
David: Yes. And in every story we tell is a government star. And let me introduce you to our star this week. That’s Rhonda.
Rhonda Haag: My name is Rhonda Haag, chief resilience officer from Monroe County, Florida, also known as the Fabulous Florida Keys. I’m the project manager from Monroe County’s Florida Keys Canal Restoration Program.
David: She is basically the chief environmental officer from Monroe County and in charge of cleaning up the canals. And I’ll let her give you the full picture.
Rhonda Haag: What happened when the development was created in the keys? Back in the fifties and sixties, there were dredge and fill activities. They created 170 miles of canals, and that created 312 miles of waterfront property with each side of the canal having houses.
So very beautiful properties, very beautiful canals. But they were they weren’t dug with water quality in mind. Many of them were dug too deep to allow maximum oxygen content throughout the water column. Many others were really long, and they ended up in a dead end network, so there wasn’t proper flow through.
So we have all of these issues with canals because they were dug with human enjoyment in mind and not water quality. And so now, 50 years later, these weren’t permitted back then, either. Now here we are 50 years later, with water quality conditions, we have to go back and do what we can to help restore these canals so they can be ecologically friendly and help the marine environment instead of damage it.
Carol: Well, it sounds like a huge job, though.
David: It is, there are about 500 canals in the keys. Water tests found only 170 canals met water quality standards. 130 canals were classified as having poor water. Others were just fair. Yeah, the county made up a list and picked the first 100 canals to clean up.
Carol: So why did all this happen? Was it just greed or everybody was short sighted? Because that’s a lot of damage.
David: Basically, they needed dirt. So meet, Greg Corning, he’s an engineer with a company called Wood Consulting, and he was the guy that supervised the canal restoration when it got started back in 2014 and continues with it today.
Greg Corning: So back in the early fifties sixties, when development started to occur down in the Florida Keys, the developers needed the dirt for building the homes since the the Florida Keys is, all intents and purposes, a living reef that was built on top of for development.
And so when they started doing that development, they dug out what now we would consider these canals, and in some instances they had to dig a lot deeper in certain areas because they needed a lot more materials. So in some cases, we have canals that are 40 feet deep and the developers didn’t really consider or look at. Hydraulics in terms of flushing, and hey, what would be the implications of water quality long term? And so they built these deep dead end canal systems that had nowhere to go in terms of water flow. And so they have now a lot of stagnant areas where dissolved oxygen is low and lacking, which is causing water quality impairments not only within the canals but also in the surrounding nearshore waters.
Carol: You know, I just can’t believe as I listen to you, tell me all this that they wrecked the water just to build houses.
David: Well, it’s not quite that simple, but it is, you know, there’s developers. And this is not just the Florida Keys problem, it’s the Florida problem, because I don’t know if you know this, but every day nearly 1000 people move into Florida.
And it’s not just, yeah, it’s a lot. It’s 1000 people a day. And it’s not just retirees, it’s families and young people. They come for lower no taxes. And of course, you know, fabulous weather. So Florida has lots of environmental challenges, to be sure.
And of course, you know, climate change doesn’t add to Florida solutions. You have freshwater, rising tide, seawater, development at red tide and algae bloom. All mean there are problems. And, you know, going back to the World War two land boom, those things weren’t factors.
Greg Corning: You know, over the years since that time frame, it’s it’s been a slowly degraded system and it’s been degrading ever since. And, you know, with with other combinations of factors, you know, you have, you know, the the storm water and you have the you have the septic tanks and other things that were causing issues as well.
So I would say, you know, since that time frame, it’s really been a a degradation of that water quality.
Carol: You know, when I think of Florida, I think of, to be honest with you, like Disney world and going to the beaches.
David: How old are your kids? Disney world?
Carol: Ok, their past the Disney Age. But it’s still what I think of.
David: Do you still have your mouse ears?
Carol: My daughter does, but back to the beach.
David: Yes. Yes, sorry.
Carol: Water is what a lot of people think of. I mean, let’s face it, places like South Beach, you have West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach. That’s the one with the cars on the beach, right?
Carol: And and the waters of the keys.
David: Exactly. And that’s why water and clean water are really vital to the state, especially to a small chain of islands where water was what brings that the big tourist dollars they come in for fishing, for diving, for sailing or, you know, back to sitting in the cabana bar, sipping a rum runner.
Carol: We go with the rum again.
David: Yes. Well, actually, I never left it. How’s your drink? So good. All right. So Greg says, you know, tourists, they might not see the impact of the bad water planning, but ultimately you know it. This water is what drives them to visit.
Greg Corning: It’s a big issue because it it drives, you know, the economy. I mean, the water quality. If it’s not good, then you’re not going to have tourists come down to the keys and they’re not going to want to enjoy that habitat.
So I think a lot of folks visually see canal systems and they see the top surface of them and they’re like, Oh, look, how nice they look. But in the real grand scheme of things, there’s a lot of other things that are going on underneath that surface that folks just don’t necessarily realize.
Carol: The Good Government Show is sponsored by Liquid. We love Liquid and not just because they are our sponsor.
David: Yes, we love Liquid because they are their sponsor. And you know, when you say Liquid, it makes me think of rum runners.
Carol: I’ll bet. How did I know you were going to say this?
David: Well, because I like rum runners and like The Keys and I like Liquid. You know why?
Carol: Actually, it sounds like a nice drink, I have to say.
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David: So let’s just raise a rum runner the Liquid. You know, let’s do it for them. All right, thank you. And anyway, that’s why we love Liquid. We love them because they’re our sponsor and we love them because they make digital work.
So check them out on the World Wide Web at Liquid I N T dot com. That’s Liquid INT dot com.
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Carol: OK, so we know what the problem is, and we know how it got that way. When did they begin to realize that they really had to do something about this?
David: So George Neugent, he’s a former Monroe County commissioner and he’s a former mayor of the county, and he came to the keys. Actually, he came the keys on a sailboat. He sailed into the keys and decided to stay.
He moved there. He opened some businesses and then he got involved as the population grew. He could see that there were water issues and they were going to get worse if something wasn’t done.
George Neugent: Hey, we’ve got some growing insidious issues. And so it was a combination of things that just started resonating with me. That said, we’ve got to do something about this and it even it not only starts in the bay or the ocean because we see this halo that exists completely around the Florida Keys.
So we got problems and we’re dumping our sewer and waste into the keys’ waters, outstanding Florida waters. I said, we’ve got to start doing something about this and getting involved.
David: He also started hearing from other homeowners, and he recognized it was time for action.
George Neugent: At one point in time, I recognized that people could not even sell their homes in certain areas because the canals had so much detritus and junk that had been thrown into these canals that had to be cleaned up.
So it was it was an economic interest on my part, as well as an environmental interest on my part.
Carol: Well, at last some action.
David: Right. So what he did was he got some grant money for studies and he worked with the state and that slowly got the ball rolling. At about 1990, the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary was established and by 1997 the management plan went into effect, so a whole bunch of things were happening together, and this included a comprehensive water management plan that included canal restoration.
Carol: Okay, so now we know the problem. We see how we got there. The cleanup is beginning. But you know, how do you restore a canal?
David: Well, this is where you need the experts first. Rhonda said they had to figure out exactly what they were going to do. And they set up demonstrations projects just to see what would work.
Rhonda Haag: We couldn’t find a lot of canal restoration programs throughout the country, so we were kind of on our own and that’s why we did these demonstration projects because we do, like I said, we had over 300 canals that didn’t meet state water quality standards.
And, we knew, we’re going to need to do some type of technology. So we refined them to fit our situation.
Carol: So what works?
David: All right. So I am now a water engineer specialist. Let me explain the basics. Are you an engineer?
David: Don’t worry.
Carol: I’m afraid to hear what you’re going to say.
David: No, I am now an engineer specialist, a water engineer specialist. I could do this for you. All right. I’m going to make this simple because, well, I made them do it for me. So first, there’s backfilling. So what happened is many of these canals were dug so deep that the water didn’t flow.
So what happens is the seaweed gets into the canals and it just sits on the bottom and it piles up and it piles up and it creates that smell. We talked about it and it chokes out oxygen. But with back filling.
What you do is you dredge up the canals and then you fill it up to about eight feet of water that allows for water flow. That, in turn, cleans up the water and marine life. It just starts to flow back.
Then there are culverts. Culverts basically mean you connect to dead end canals and you install pipes to create a flow from one canal to the other. So this creates water flow and a return of marine life. Then there are air curtains.
Air curtains create a curtain of air and that prevents seaweed from entering canal. So that keeps it cleaner, and it allows for a return to marine life.
Carol: All right. So I’m seeing the pattern here, more marine life, and that’s such a good thing. What kind of marine life are we talking about?
David: All right. Well, you know what? I’ll let Rhonda explain it to you.
Rhonda Haag: We took a canal in Key Largo that was 40 feet deep, and we back filled it with fill material to a depth of about seven feet. And the results for that were astronomical. The water quality immediately improved because now you had dissolved oxygen throughout the canal.
Residents called us and they sent us emails and saying it was immediate results. They saw the fish come back, they saw shrimp, they saw fish chasing shrimp jumping up through the air. They saw the manatees come back. They were overjoyed because it was such an immediate benefit.
Carol: I have to admit, I’ve never seen a manatee.
David: Well, manatees are very popular of the Florida ecosystem, and they thrive in near coastal waters and they’re looking for the warm water.
Carol: Are those those really big animals?
David: Yes. Yes they are. They live off clean seagrass and they’re basically harmless and you can even swim with manatees. Yeah, they don’t attack people. They’re gentle giants, gentle sea giants, to be sure, and they can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and they can be ten feet long.
Carol: Yeah, OK, I’m avoiding that when I go swimming.
David: Well, so with manatees, their biggest predator is humans, they get hit by boats. But a manatee in the canal is a good sign and they’re fun to see and manatees. They were given special attention as they wanted to make sure they had full canal. Access with some of those seaweed gates they wanted to put in, the manatees just had to move around them.
Rhonda Haag: You know, we looked at what SeaWorld was doing and how they moved their marine life back and forth when you walk through a tunnel. So we’re designing a physical weed gate, not an air curtain that you know, in the shallower canals will have a tunnel on the side where manatees can flow through and go through without getting hurt in the gate.
Carol: OK, I’ll say yay for manatees. I might just swim with them. It’s interesting.
David: Good. I’ll have Rhonda drop you off in a clean canal. Here’s Rhonda with another canal success story in the lower keys.
Rhonda Haag: So we took two canals and Big Pine key that had five feet, literally five feet of decomposing muck on the bottom. And we removed that muck. So that was through a series of hydraulic removal. Removed that five feet of muck.
We replaced it, we back filled it a little bit to bring that depth up to seven feet on one of the canals, because that’s about the maximum depth of a canal where you have oxygen throughout the top in the bottom of the water column.
And then we put a layer of sand on it to help get the seagrass growing. And then we put a weed gate at the mouth of the canal to avoid future floating seaweed from coming in. So now we restored this canal.
We removed the muck, put a layer of backfill in and coat it with sand. And then we put an air curtain in there called an air curtain to keep out the weeds.
Carol: So how bad was it? Was it just the smell?
David: Yes. The smell is what you noticed below the surface. That’s what was going on, and that’s what needed to be fixed. No water flow, too much seaweed, 30 feet of decomposing muck, no fish. People couldn’t swim off their dock. They couldn’t take their boats out. They could not even sit in their backyard and look out over the blue water. I’ll have Rhonda tell you.
Rhonda Haag: So the smell on on many of the canals where the seaweed does come in and not able to get out and sink to the bottom because of poor flushing or just not able to get out the winds, keep pushing it sink to the bottom. It decomposes into hydrogen sulfide smell. And so we had people that have complained that they couldn’t even sit in their backyard next to the canal because of the terrible smell. They couldn’t rent their properties, they couldn’t sell them.
Basically, they were stuck with a house that they couldn’t enjoy, whether for themselves or for a tenant. And so that’s why these restoration programs are important. It also can be bad for the health of the people that sulfide. You know, that’s not a gas that you want to breathe. It’s decomposing seaweed and it smells like rotten eggs and it can. It’s obviously an odor, you don’t want to smell, and it can be to people that are sensitive with their breathing.
It can be difficult to breathe if it’s in very strong quantities if you’re sitting next to the canal. I smell that it’s not a nice smell. It’s not something I’d want in my backyard.
Carol: So are the canals finally restored now?
David: No. Not by a long shot.
Carol: That’s disappointing.
David: Yeah, there’s work to be done. So far, they’ve only restored close to ten, two are being worked on as we speak. It all comes down to budget, the only getting about 5 million a year to fix these canals. So the work is going slowly, but they are making progress and they’re getting help.
There are two cities in the Keys, Marathon ans Islamorada and they’re incorporated cities, and they’re working on their own city based canal restoration projects. And then they also got sidelined. Hurricane Irma blew through. It took two years to clean up for the hurricane.
So, you know, they’re slow, but they’re working.
Carol: Wow. How is it now for people who live on the clean canals, though?
David: Well, let me introduce you to Harold Pinter. He lives in Key Largo. That’s in the upper keys, and his canal was restored mostly by backfill. His canal was between 20 and 30 feet deep, and now it’s just eight feet deep and it’s clean.
Harold Pinter: Previous to the cleanup of the canal, the canal right off my dock was approximately 22 feet deep. I had a couple of occasions to go into the canal to retrieve tools or actually my eyeglasses. one time came out of the canal covered with leech like Insects or whatever you want to call them, organisms really freak me out any time I went in the canal, I’d go in with a full wetsuit to protect myself from whatever might be down there and really didn’t want to go in there that often and just happened to be, you know, retrieving things or whatever.
After the summer, we would have stuff drifting up off the bottom. The stench of the water in the summertime was it was horrible. Just the the organic material that was coming up off the bottom.
Carol: Wow, that sounds horrible.
David: Yeah, it was. Imagine having this on the surface anyway. Blue water outside your back door and it’s so bad you can’t sit in your backyard sometimes. And boaters had trouble. They had to constantly clean their boats. Sometimes the seaweed so thick they couldn’t even get through.
Carol: But Harold’s Canal is better now. I mean, can you sit in at least sit outside?
David: Yes, he can do that now.
Harold Pinter: Now, frequently, we can see the bottom of the canal. We can see grass growing, see all kinds of fish life in there before it was just a black hole. So quite a bit of an improvement from that perspective again. And the the snorkeling that I have done in the canal, the fish life is tremendous. I mean, between seeing snapper and sheepshead tarpon at a time or two for hog fish, we get lobster coming into the canal. Now that I haven’t seen before, manatees seem to love it. They come in and they seem to munch on the grass that’s growing on the bottom. Humor a story about that. one time I was claiming my boatlift i-beams and I got nudged by something kind of spooked me and turned around. Here I’m looking face to face to a manatee that he was just curious and come up to see what I was doing. But the improvement on the canal is tremendous.
Carol: Wow. Swimming with the manatees. Sorry about that would still freak me out a little bit. But clean water or not, this is a great story.
David: You should relax about the manatee thing. You know, manatees they once thought were mermaids.
Carol: Yeah right.
David: No, no, no. They really did. And you know who doesn’t like a good mermaid swimming by? Well, anyway, let’s go down to the Big Pine key. Nancy Bloch was in that canal and that was restored by a culvert system to canals. No flow through each other, and it’s improve the canal dramatically, including for the manatees.
Nancy Bloch: Well, after they put the culvert in under our property, under the street. And to the canal across the street. Now we were able to see it to the bottom of our canal and we have more fish baby fish just hanging out right at the end of the culvert on actually on both sides, the other canal and our side.
When the tide goes out, we have a swish where the water comes out of this culvert into our canal and then just goes out with the tide. Same thing when it comes in, there’s a decent amount of flow through the culvert to the other side, and I think that flow is causing it to be much clearer.
I would not have gone in the water before. Now we have, you know, manatees come down and there are a lot of fun to watch.
Carol: Oh, more manatees.
David: Yes, the Florida Keys, that’s their home. So no doubt they love a clean canal, probably a lot more than we folks on land. So if the progress is slow but progress is being made, one canal at a time and the waters in the Florida Keys are being cleaned up.
Rhonda Haag: The very successful canal restoration projects, for sure, because there is a dramatic increase in the water quality and that increase in water quality leads to more marine life. You could see grasses and then you get fish and you get manatees.
And of course, that that’s the purpose of the program is to increase the water quality, and that’s the best thing about it. But of course, humans get that enjoyment too, because their canals become filled with life again, and it’s good to sit on the canal side and see all the marine life, and you can go boating again and enjoy your canals. And so it’s a win win for everybody and win win for humans and win win for the environment. That’s the best thing about this program.
Carol: A win win for everyone. Wow. There really is a great story.
David: Yes, it is. And it’s just another great example of the government. And in this case, it’s part county, part local cities, part federal government, part state government, all working together to clean up some of the most beautiful water in the country.
And if you don’t believe me, head south on A1A into the fabulous Florida Keys and go diving, go fishing or just sip a cocktail by the water and you’ll realize paradise is right there.
Carol: And there you go again with the rum.
David: Yes. Yes, yes. So cheers to all that clean water and cheers to rum runners.
Carol: I like that.
David: Good. So, Carol, this is it our final episode of our first season of the Good Government show. Our goal with this podcast is to bring our listeners stories of government that gets it right. Some of our stories are huge projects like the Keys Canal Restoration.
Some are small projects like that mobile book library in Catawaba County, North Carolina. Some are personal, like the Berks County program that taught convicted men and women, how to work in the construction trade and more importantly, how to work.
Carol: And you know what? I really enjoyed the visit we had to Farmingdale, New York, where an entire downtown was revitalized and they made it come alive again. In fact, you know what, David? My kids even went to visit it.
David: Did they have Mexican food?
Carol: No, they didn’t. But but they really liked it.
David: But we like the Mexican.
Carol: The Mexican place is good, but they liked it because it was so alive. And then, of course, we did the sensory trail in Harford County in Maryland. It showed how a small feature in a park can make a big difference to a small group of people.
And then, of course, I’ll never forget how Sonoma County, California took care of their veterans. That’s a story where they built all those mini houses. And then because of Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, I now want to visit Kansas.
David: You just want to see all these men through the full Monty.
Carol: No, no. It’s the electric house they want to see.
David: Yeah, yeah. Well, I would like to see the artists on display, but what we wanted to do is wanted to show that government every day, improves people’s lives and provides solutions to problems.
Carol: And I think we have I mean, just remember the words of the mother whose autistic son was in that arts program in the arts center. The arts saved his life. That’s an incredible thing to say about a community center. So what’s next for the good government show?
David: All right, Carol. Well, we have a few things that we’re working on already for season two. I’ll start. I met a county commissioner in Texas. He ran for office saying he’s going to clean up San Antonio. And right after the election there he was out literally picking up garbage and making sure the collections were never an issue again. We found a food bank that’s getting fresh food. We’re looking at a rural county in Kentucky that’s encouraging teachers to stay in the county after they graduate high school and college. We found inmates saving dogs from shelters and a free college program for students. And there’s a program in New York that allows entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to local business people. These are all great stories we’re working on.
Carol: They are indeed, and I found two counties that are helping women with women’s care products and a park that brings story pages to life. And we’re also looking at how one county around a lake is dealing with climate change. And while they do that, they’re still providing a place for folks to enjoy the lake while they still can.
David: I recently attended the National Association of Counties that have an annual conference, and I got to sit down with Matt Chase. He’s the CEO and the executive director of NACO, and he shared some of the amazing things county government is doing.
Matt Chase: Below the surface. Counties continue to innovate. We are seeing incredible progress on broadband. We still have far too many Americans who are unconnected or underserved. But what we are seeing as county governments partnering with industry to bring hotspots to neighborhoods and eventually more sustainable connections.
We’re seeing a ton of focus on housing. This pandemic has really disrupted the housing markets and have actually driven up home prices in many areas. And we’re seeing counties really focus on housing, mental health and really making sure that our kids aren’t left behind as they reenter school in the fall.
David: Here’s a story I want to look at. This may be a future podcast. This is a great story of making the best of a tough situation with a creative solution for kids who are not getting into their classrooms.
Matt Chase: Franklin County, which is Columbus, Ohio, metro area, partnered with their local Science and Technology Museum, and as they were delivering meals to kids who were learning remotely, they decided to insert stem kits with NASA and their local science and technology school museums into these lunch pails.
The kids got more out of these. Fun, engaging learning activities, and they said we’re not just feeding the body, we’re feeding the mind. And just a small investment like that will make a difference in the kids lives.
Carol: He must have a ton of great stories for us to work on.
David: He does. And he said many governments are working to help homeless people with really innovative solutions. But I’ll let Matt tell it.
Matt Chase: In several counties across the country actually went and purchased hotels or motels to put homeless populations in there and provide wraparound services. And we’re seeing a lot of innovation in the housing market. Tiny homes, accessory housing developments and just anything that we can do to help people get in stable housing.
Carol: That’s really good. More solutions to housing problems. Fantastic.
David: I also got to talk to our good friend, Christian Leinbach. He’s a county commissioner at Berks County, Pennsylvania, and he was impressed with some of the projects aimed at rehabilitation for those people who’ve been arrested.
Christian Leinbach: I talked to some folks, and I cannot remember right now which state it was because I’ve talked to a number of them that are doing some pretty amazing things again on criminal justice reform, not just with job training, but working with folks in the area of changing behavioral change and providing that support from the county government.
So often we think of county government and criminal justice is all about the putting people in jail, prosecuting people. County government is just as concerned about keeping people out of jail that don’t need to be there when we help people and we’re successful that individual benefits in a big way.
Often there are families that are impacted negatively and when we’re able to help someone. It’s not uncommon to see family relationships restored. Maybe not completely, but to a level where they’re talking, they’re communicating. But it also is beneficial to the local community and economy.
Carol: Looks like there’s really no shortage of stories for the next season of the good government show.
David: No so get ready, Carol. We’ve got a lot of places to visit and a lot of people to meet.
Carol: OK, I’m ready. Can I go to the keys this time?
David: No, no, no. Sorry, the keys are my beat and wait till you hear about the story that I come back with. They’re working on roads to keep them above sea level.
Carol: Really. So are you headed there?
David: Yes, I am.
Carol: I figured that.
David: I will bring you back key lime pie. Don’t worry. You don’t want to get your body painted, so I’m going.
Carol: All right. But then you know what? If I head to Texas? No barbecue for you.
David: Oh, you could bring me back something. But anyway, yes, we’ve got a lot of stories to work on, and I think we’re going to have a great season two. And I’m going to give Christian Leinbach the last word on this season.
Christian Leinbach: Everybody wins when we treat people as human beings.
Carol: And that’s the first season of the good government show. Thanks to everyone for listening.
David: Thanks, Carol, and thanks for bringing us some great stories and going on this journey with me. Thanks to everyone who helped us tell these great stories and thanks to you listeners who stuck with us on the first season of the good government show.
Carol: And we will be back for season two. So go to our website. Good Government Show dot COM and check out all our stories and email us with your good government stories.
David: Yes, we will be back for season two, so keep looking for us wherever you get your podcasts, check our website, look for more stories of good government action.
Carol: And I’m Carol D’auria.
David: And I’m David Martin. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you on season two of The Good Government Show.
The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.ht here for another episode of The Good Government Show.