Power is on for No Name KeyBy Steve Estes
Commercially supplied electrical power flowed to a No Name Key home for the first time in history Wednesday afternoon.
According to Keys Energy Spokesman Julio Barroso, Keys Energy crews were expected to hook the home of Brad and Beth Vickrey on Bahia Shores Rd. to the utility grid early afternoon. Heavy rains delayed the start of the hook up, but by 3:15 p.m. commercial power was flowing to No Name Key for the first time in history.
Potential roadblocks to the flow of commercial power to No Name Key all melted away last week when Circuit Court Judge David Audlin issued a writ of mandamus that ordered the county to allow island residents who wished to connect to commercial power to receive building permits that had been denied by Monroe County.
The Board of County Commissioners had voted at its May meeting not to object to the order if it were issued, so five working days after Audlin issued the order, the first home was hooked up.
County commissioners said they voted not to object to a court order should it be issued because they had earlier in the same meeting agreed to begin the process to change the land development regulation language that had thus far prohibited the issuance of permits to hook into public utilities.
That decision followed a decision from the state Public Service Commission two weeks ago in which the PSC said that it had the authority to mandate that power be run to the island, but lacked the authority to direct Monroe County to ignore its own ordinances and issue permits.
Based on earlier rulings from Audlin, county legal staff said that he would rule to issue permits, and while an appeal was probably winnable, the commission was inclined to remove the prohibition anyway so fighting the writ didn’t make much sense.
“It makes no sense to continue to keep electricity from the residents of No Name Key to allow the process to work through,” said Mayor George Neugent, as he cast a vote not to fight the court order.
Had the county waited until the code change was finalized, No Name residents would have had to wait until at least February of next year before they could begin processing permits to hook into the grid that has been energized since August of 2012 but supplying power to no one.
The Solar Community of No Name Key, led by environmental activist Alicia Putney, said that it would not continue to fight against the extension of power to the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key.
“Ultimately, the county commission had made the decision to change the comprehensive plan language and the land development codes to allow the extension of utilities to No Name Key. There was little sense in fighting an action,even though we feel we would have prevailed in court, that was to be rendered moot by action of the commission,” said Putney.
That decision by the county commission also will open the door to allow permits for residents in North Key Largo to hook into central sewer lines. Both projects had been stalled by the county’s prohibition against extending utilities to or through areas designated as federal Coastal Barrier Resource Systems. While not all of No Name was within the CBRS boundaries, the lines had to run through a CBRS to get to any home there.
At presstime, no one involved in the Key Largo sewer issue had filed for a writ of mandamus from the courts, so it was unclear if that project would have to wait until the new code change is enacted.
A consultant study on the protections offered to CBRS areas, all considered environmentally sensitive, by current county land use regulations determined that lifting the prohibition would decrease the level of protection for those sensitive communities, but they suggested that the county enhance those protections by changing the Rate of Growth Ordinance building allocation scoring system to assign negative points for areas in a CBRS to help prevent further human development in those areas.
“We got some more protection for the environment as a result of the change that is coming, so while No Name lost in some ways, the environment got additional protections,” said Putney.
Officials anticipate that now that commercial power has been delivered to the island, commercial water will be the next utility to find its way to No Name Key.
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Executive Director said in the past that any project to deliver potable water through FKAA lines to No Name Key would be a non-starter until the electricity question was settled.
He said that if electricity got the go-ahead, applications for FKAA water supplies could be acted on without lengthy legal delays.
Residents of the island have also pushed for connection to the central sewer collection system that will be under construction in the very near future. No Name Key has been in a cold spot service area,slated for on-site waste treatment facilities, since the inception of the county’s wastewater master plan. During a recent vote to add previous cold spots to the central service area, which added 138 properties on a central pipe, No Name didn’t make the cut as economically viable.
Officials expect that issue to come back to the table now that electricity has been supplied to the island.