County won’t issue No Name permits for power hook upsBy Steve Estes
Keys Energy Services contractors have nearly completed the process of stringing wires for the power grid on No Name Key, a few weeks ahead of schedule.
The wires are now strung so that some reportedly cross county conservation lands for which an easement was denied by the Board of County Commissioners previously.
According to KEYS Spokesman Julio Barosso, the poles have been located so that the wires skirt the edge of county property and don’t actually cross it.
That’s not possible, says Alicia Putney, President of the Solar Community of No Name Key, and a vocal opponent to commercial power on the remote island.
“If they go around county land, they have to cross US Fish and Wildlife Service land and no easement has been granted for that in any records we’ve seen,” said Putney.
If the wires cross county owned lands, legal staff will amend court actions it has in place right now to include trespassing by the contractors, says Derek Howard, lead county attorney for the No Name Key issue.
The battle over potential electrification of No Name Key where commercial power has never existed has been a long and circuitous legal fight for more than two decades.
The county claims that its land use regulations don’t allow the extension of commercial power onto private lands that are either in or must go through areas designated as a Coastal Barrier Resource System. Much of No Name falls under that designation, and the poles and wires had to cross CBRS lands to get to all of the homes that have requested service.
To answer questions surrounding the county’s actual jurisdiction, Monroe filed a declaratory action in circuit court. The judge dismissed the action, ruling that the Florida Public Service Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over the extension of the power grid.
According to PSC documents, however, the agency’s jurisdiction does have limitations, including the acquisition of easements, which can be obtained by eminent domain if that’s the only possibility. PSC documents also claim that the agency has no jurisdiction over permitting from the meter to the house. For that, homeowners would have to get a permit from the county building department. And the county’s land use codes prohibit issuing that permit.
The PSC had been asked by No Name Key resident Bob Reynolds to force the county to abdicate its land use rules and to force KEYS to ignore those rules to put a grid in place. The commission cancelled a scheduled hearing on that June 19, announcing that it would convene a fact-finding session that would probably not be completed until after the contractor had finished the poles and wires for the power grid.
KEYS says that it plans to energize the lines in mid-August.
“Staff has not stopped accepting (permit) applications for No Name Key properties,” said Howard. “If the applications are for electrical work to connect to the grid, however, they will be denied.”
County officials had also considered using code compliance officers to issue a stop work order once the lines crossed county lands or varied from state approvals for running service in established rights-of-way. That isn’t going to happen right now, says Howard.
“At this time, the county is not taking code compliance action against the utility. We will be addressing the installation of the lines in pending litigation.”
According to Chief Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger, there is precedent in Florida law for forcing removal of development done without virtue of the proper permits.
“Just because the poles and wires are in place, doesn’t mean they’ll stay,” said Howard.
The current battle over electrification of the island has severely split island residents. There are 43 homes, 25 of which had signed onto the line extension agreement with KEYS. There are 13 homes who are members of the Solar Community group and five that have yet to declare any allegiance.
The homes on the island are currently powered by solar arrays, generators, or a combination of the two.
The battle has so severely fractured the tiny island community that is surrounded by the National Key Deer Refuge and the Great White Heron Refuge that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating allegations of harassment by members of the pro-power contingent against members of the anti-power contingent.
The pro-power contingent has accused solar community members of vandalism, and the latter has accused the former of the same, along with theft of signs.