Island water awaits power settlement

By Steve Estes

As legal wrangling continues over the rights to run commercial power to No Name Key, the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority awaits the outcome to make any further decisions on potentially running commercial water supplies to the remote island off the north east shore of Big Pine.

Some preliminary work has been done, mostly to ensure FKAA officials that water lines placed in the ground many years ago by some of the island’s original developers were no longer of any use.

“We have no money up for a water project to No Name Key,” said FKAA new Executive Director Kirk Zuelch.

He says the water utility, the only one that could run commercial water to the island of 43 homes, faces some of the same legal issues Keys Energy Services is currently dealing with in attempting to run power to the island.

The homes on No Name have never been on a commercial water supply system or commercial power grid. Power is supplied by solar arrays or generators or a combination of the two. Water is by cistern.

No Name Key residents Brad and Beth Vickrey have made overtures to FKAA to run water to the island in the last two years, but the project has lain dormant since those early days.

Monroe County has a land development regulation prohibition against running commercial utilities to No Name Key under a blanket overlay covering the island’s Coastal Barrier Resource System areas.

County officials maintain that even though the utility has the authority to run lines in public rights-of-way, the prohibitions in county code would prevent issuing plumbing permits to allow the individual homes to hook into the system.

There are also questions still open on whether the utility would have to be granted easements across conservation lands owned by Monroe County and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in order to install the system.

FKAA also had a rule in its own operating standards that prevented running water to No Name Key as part of a deal with the federal government for loans decades ago to upgrade the Keys’ water supply lines from the mainland.

It was Zuelch, then FKAA attorney, that told the utility board that since the loans had been paid off, the rule could be eliminated and the board voted to do that.

But the issue has gone no where in the interim.

“Everything in sitting back right now waiting on the outcome of the power issue,” said Zuelch.

That issue is still very much alive in legal circles on two fronts. Circuit Court Judge David Audlin dismissed a county declaratory action last month that sought to clarify those questions about commercial power, which Zuelch says would probably clear up the same questions for commercial water.

Audlin said the state Public Service Commission holds sole jurisdiction to decide questions relating to the extension of public utilities. No Name Key resident Bob Reynolds has asked the PSC to force the county to allow the installation of power lines based on Audlin’s ruling, but power opponents have appealed that decision along with the county.

The PSC, according to General Counsel Curtis Kiser, hasn’t yet set a time to hear the case, but he says he believes the PSC has the sole jurisdiction to eventually decide the issue.

That might also hold true for the move to bring commercial water to the island, but Kiser said that issue isn’t in litigation as yet.

County legal staff has said it feels as though the PSC has authority to decide rate and service actions, but probably doesn’t have the authority to invalidate the county’s land use prohibitions.

That issue isn’t in court yet either, said Kiser.

Keys Energy has asked the PSC to dismiss Reynolds’ claim because its board last month approved a line extension agreement with the No Name Key Property Owner’s Association and claims the case is moot at this point.

Kiser said no decision has been made whether to act on that dismissal motion as yet.

County and FKAA officials are also awaiting some sorting out of the legal ramifications to make final determinations on what type of upgraded wastewater systems will be placed on No Name Key to meet the state’s mandate for upgrading to advanced wastewater treatment.

No Name is currently not in the county’s master plan to receive central collection pipes when the expanded Cudjoe Regional Wastewater treatment system comes on line.

“We have done some preliminary research on solar-powered systems that will meet the mandate on No Name Key,” said Zuelch. “But a resolution to the power issue might change some of those decisions.”

No Name Key was left out of the county’s plans for central collection not because of the power issue, but because of the cost involved in running pipes to the remote island.

No Name is about two miles from where the closest pipe will run for the central collection system on Big Pine Key.

FKAA’s on-site system replacement program for properties that won’t be included in the central system is underway and is slated to be complete before the central collection system.

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