Light ‘em up
By Steve Estes
PSC, BOCC clear way for power to No Name
County says no more fight
It could be lights on using power supplied by Keys Energy Services for at least 22 homeowners on No Name Key in the very near future, like two or three weeks.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed to give up on any further appeals of a state Public Service Commission ruling Tuesday that the folks on No Name Key should be allowed to hook into the commercial power grid.
The BOCC also agreed that it would not defend any action taken by the pro-power contingent on No Name Key should they file court action seeking an immediate issuance of building permits to hook into the energized power grid that has been sitting idle on the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key since August of last year.
According to County Attorney Bob Shillinger, the PSC ruled that it did have the jurisdiction to force Keys Energy to supply the power, but did not have the jurisdiction to force Monroe County to issue the building permits.
That lack, however, said Shillinger, might be a moot point should the pro-power contingent re-file a writ of mandamus action in the local circuit court.
“That writ was dismissed without prejudice by Judge (David) Audlin earlier, but it was clear he was waiting on the ruling from the PSC,” said Shillinger.
Shillinger said the county had options to choose from. It could appeal the PSC ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, but that the county’s hired counsel wasn’t “optimistic” that the result wold be favorable. The BOCC could ask for an administrative hearing in front of the full PSC where the merits of the case could be argued, or it could do nothing and let the decision stand as a final order.
The BOCC chose the latter on a split 3-2 vote.
Commissioners also voted with that same split not to defend a possible writ of mandamus seeking to force the county to issue building permits on No Name Key for grid hook ups. The only limiting factor on time with that decision is how long it takes the pro-power contingent to re-file the writ and Audlin to rule.
“We believe, based on past rulings, that Judge Audlin would grant the writ,” said Shillinger.
From there, No Name Key property owners wishing to hook into the power grid would obtain building permits to do so from county staff and the power could go on as soon as the work can be done and final inspections approved.
“If the court orders us to issue permits, how do we ignore that?” said County Mayor George Neugent. He voted to allow power.
“It’s time to say we’re through,” said Commissioner David Rice, who also voted to approve.
Commissioner Danny Kolhage said he saw no other outcome than a court order forcing the issuance of permits and also voted to allow permits to start flowing,
Although there are legal angles that could derail a quick resolution, all three were certain that the electrification saga of No Name Key, ongoing for more than two decades, is coming to a close.
Local residents opposed to the commercial electrification of No Name Key, however, warned the commission that allowing permits to flow before the final PSC order is published could be dangerous.
During the PSC hearing, one state commissioner opined that electricity is a “fundamental Constitutional right,” but Shillinger said isn’t the verbiage expected in the final ruling.
In a prepared approval motion written before the commission meeting began, Shillinger outlined the BOCC methodology.
“The county will not appeal the PSC ruling as long as it reflects the state staff’s report and if a writ is sought the county staff is not to oppose it,” said Shillinger.
The commission also voted that the writ must seek no remedy other than a permit.
No Name Key residents Bob Reynolds and Jim Newton had asked for $10 million in damages during the previous filing.
Shillinger has maintained throughout the long process that damages were highly unlikely.
When pressed, he also opined that retroactive legal action from former No Name Key property owners who sold land cheap when told they would never get public utilities was also unlikely.
Neugent had said earlier in the week that if a court solution to the permit issue could be found, he saw no reason to delay power to the residents on No Name Key who desired it.
Earlier in Wednesday’s meeting, the commission had voted 4-1 to begin the process to eliminate the county’s prohibition, a process that could have taken another eight or nine months with no appeals or delays.
The outcome, however, was virtually assured that the prohibition would be lifted and permits would flow, just a little later.
The commissioners did not rescind the action to change the land development prohibition process as the No Name Key question does not answer a similar one with sewer hook ups in North Key Largo where collection lines run through a CBRS area to get to homes desiring central sewer connections.
Those permits will have to wait until the prohibition is rescinded unless court action trumps that one as well.
Commissioner Heather Carruthers voted against the measure that would allow nearly immediate permits. She said she felt circumventing the process would do more harm than good in the long run, including further erosion of the county’s home rule powers.
Commissioner Sylvia Murphy was the other dissenting vote.
“No Name Key needs to be an off-grid island, an example of what we can do with the future of power,” she said.