County decides to stay course in island wrangleBy Steve Estes
Monroe County commissioners have agreed to remain in the game regarding the potential electrification of No Name Key.
On a 4-1 vote the Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed that they should send legal representation to a proposed Public Service Commission meeting that will attempt to decide jurisdictional questions over who actually has what control over extending an electrical grid to the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key.
The battle has been ongoing for more than 22 years in some form. In August 2012, Keys Energy actually installed a power grid to the island, but that energized grid currently powers nothing.
County legal representatives, a legal team from the PSC, attorneys representing both sides of the No Name power battle and a host of other interested folks held an informal meeting last week to discuss who should file briefs on what, who would answer briefs on what, what the next steps were and other minutia going forward.
That was in advance of the county’s meeting Wednesday, which in turn was in advance of another informal meeting of the interested parties Thursday to discuss more in the way of ground rules on how this issue will proceed.
After a closed-door session with County Attorney Bob Shillinger the commissioners voted to stay at the table for the PSC hearings.
According to Shillinger, that round of legal action may drag out to at least June.
“Based on the usual timeline of PSC matters, I don’t see the case being heard prior to the June 18 meeting,” said Shillinger.
Even though the support among commissioners hasn’t been resounding for continuing the PSC action, brought by No Name Key resident Bob Reynolds, Shillinger says that the county should stay at the table because the PSC is being asked to rule concerning a county ordinance that is currently still on the books.
Even with poles and wires traversing No Name Key, county staff has refused to issue permits for the 22 homeowners who signed on to the Keys Energy contract for power, at a cost of more than $650,000, due to a land development regulation that prohibits the extension of public utilities to areas designated as a federal Coastal Barrier Resource System.
Much of No Name is included in a CBRS area, and the prohibition also says that permits to hook into commercial power are a no-no if the grid runs through a CBRS area. Keys Energy couldn’t reach any area of No Name Key without passing through a CBRS at some point.
It is the contention of the pro-power group on No Name Key that the PSC has sole jurisdiction to control and regulate the extension of commercial power anywhere in Florida.
In a circuit court case between the county and KEYS, seeking a declaratory action to decide that LDR authority and other issues, the judge agreed that jurisdiction lies with the PSC. That ruling was upheld by the court of appeals.
In that case, the PSC filed a brief that claimed it does some jurisdiction in the matter, but didn’t expressly tell the court it had complete jurisdiction.
Attorney for Reynolds Patrick Flanagan Wednesday told the commission he believed the court had decided the jurisdictional issue when it kicked the case to the PSC. The PSC has yet to claim sole jurisdiction.
Many onlookers believed that the PSC scheduled the informal meeting for Thursday so close to the county’s decision Wednesday because those involved believed the county would agree to pull away from the case.
Reynolds has asked the PSC to void the county’s prohibition and force them to issue permits to the 22 properties that have requested commercial power.
County legal staff has said they don’t believe the PSC has that kind of jurisdiction.
A staff report to the full PSC is due next Thursday.