BOCC seeks an injunction against power

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday added another legal tangle to the potential electrification of No Name Key.

The BOCC voted to allow county staff to file an action for injunction against Keys Energy Services to prevent the utility from building a power grid to the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine.

Last week the Keys’ utility board voted to award contracts to begin construction of a power grid on the island of 43 homes even though county officials say they believe their land use regulations don’t allow for the extension of utilities to or through areas inside a federal Coastal Barrier Resource System designation. Portions of No Name Key are in such a designation and the lines would have to go through the CBRS to reach the 25 homes that have signed on for electricity from the utility.

The KEYS’ board said it felt it had the authority to establish the power grid without the county’s permission because of the statutory authority given it by the state and because the jurisdiction for public utilities lies with the Public Service Commission and not with the local governing body.

Chief Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger said he had been given additional information in the last few days that would require some further research and asked for a closed session on the utility issue for No Name Key at the BOCC special meeting coming Tuesday.

“That research may be enough for you to decide that we don’t want to go forward with the injunction, but we need time to research that,” said Shillinger.

Shilinger has maintained that the county has a valid ordinance prohibiting it from issuing building permits to the No Name Key homeowners to hook into electric lines even if they are run to the property along public rights-of-way.

Not all of the lines use public rights-of-way, however, and Shilinger said there are still questions surrounding the authority of the county to deny easements across conservation lands it owns on the island that would be used for lines for the project.

The Public Service Commission is expected to hear the No Name Key matter in a June 5 session.

In other actions, the county filed a declaratory judgment action late last year that sought to get a court’s opinion on what the county could and could not do with regard to electrification of the island in light of their land use prohibitions.

That action was dismissed by the local circuit and punted to the PSC. That dismissal was appealed by the county and by anti-power groups. That appeal has yet to be ruled on by the appeals court.

The county has also filed to intervene in the PSC case because Shillinger said the state body is being asked to rule on the county’s ability to claim jurisdiction over land use in its own area.

Groups opposed to power on the island where the homes are now powered by solar arrays, generators or a combination of the two, have also filed a demand action with the county to enforce the land use regulations on the books since no court has ruled those regulations invalid.

Upper Keys Attorney Andy Tobin, representing the No Name Key Property Owners Association, the group seeking commercial power, said the county no longer has jurisdiction to decide what utilities a homeowner uses once they have issued the building permit for the structure.

That was questioned by commissioners as they already force homeowners to hook into central sewer systems throughout the county even if the home has a functioning, approved on-site wastewater system.

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