Permit issues facing islands
New program adds a step for Big Pine: Staff seeks cost increase

By Steve Estes

For Big Pine Key residents, the questions surrounding hooking into the county’s wastewater treatment system will definitely be varied.

Will I be on gravity or grinder?

Will I need power or not?

When will my street be finished?

Then add the multitude of permitting questions still up in the air.

How much for the plumbing permit?

How much for the electrical permit if I need it?

How much for the septic abandonment permit if I need it?

But for property owners in the more remote areas of Big Pine Key, there is an additional layer of questions to be answered before hookup to any type of pipe can begin.

Whether on gravity or grinder can be answered, at least temporarily, by perusing the service area maps at the project website, Of course, those maps will probably change in the next couple of weeks after the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority suggests that a major portion of Port Pine Heights be switched over to gravity because the estimate to add that area is in line with what the Board of County Commissioners  approved last month in adding most of Eden Pines Colony, part of the Doctor’s Arm area,Tropical Bay and Cahill.

There is also a strong chance the remaining homes on Pirates Drive on Little Torch will be added to the gravity pipe service area.

So the question of who gets what is still very much fluid, leaving the question of who needs an additional power supply and who doesn’t very much fluid.

And as long as changes are being made to the types of service, when properties will be able to hook into the pipes at the street is also very fluid. FKAA officials had said that some of the outer islands collection system properties might get hook up notices in mid-2015. That has changed to late 2015 and may get pushed further back if the BOCC keeps making service type changes.

At least through next week, plumbing permits will be $70 at least, although those prices could rise if it’s a very expensive lateral that has to traverse 60 or more feet get to the street. The electrical permits, at least through next week, are slated to be $150 to install that dedicated 30-amp, 240-volt circuit to power a grinder ump if the property winds up with one (see explanation above on who gets what).

Of course, none of that cost goes toward actually installing the electrical service or lateral pipes. Those costs will vary by property depending on the type of pipe to be installed,whether for gravity or grinder service, and the difficulty in getting a new electrical power supply to the outer wall of the home to service the grinder pump assembly if necessary.

Oh yes,and property owners will also have to purchase a $95 septic system abandonment permit from the Department of Health. The estimated cost for the abandonment is about $750 for typical needs.

But after next week, permitting costs could skyrocket to four times as much as is currently charged if the BOCC accepts a county staff recommendation to revamp plumbing and electrical fees. The base plumbing fee could go to $250, with an additional $23 for miscellaneous fees tacked onto the building permit. The base electrical permit would go to $100, added to the plumbing base and now $25 for miscellaneous fees, or a bottom line of $375.

Big Pine is home to no less than 15 different flora and fauna species that are either federally listed as endangered species, or in the process of being listed as endangered species.

Because of that, there are many properties on Big Pine Key, as well as other Cudjoe Regional islands, that will have to go through the county’s new permit referral process. If a parcel is inside any of the species focus areas, where endangered plants or animals are actually found, or inside the buffer zones where those plants might expand or those species might forage, or expand, the PRP program kicks in. The minimum fee for that program is $208 if the property is found to have a not likely to affect the species designation. The fee could be as high as $600 if county staffers find that the installation of laterals could affect the species.

Oh, and of course, the latter permits would have to go to the Vero Beach office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service for their review before work can actually start.

Begging the additional question…how long does that take? Answer….who knows?

“While digging a trench in your yard might seem rather benign, there is a chance that the parcel could be rated likely to affect (species) and have to be sent to Vero Beach for review,” said Monroe County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley. “It’s an extra layer of review we have to do for any parcels in the species focus areas or buffer zones.”

As of yet, the county hasn’t processed any applications that require such a review, but with the advent of hook ups in the Cudjoe Regional service area, that will happen.

“We want the BOCC to give us some direction on what they want us to do in terms of fees going forward,” said Hurley.

County Building Official Jerry Smith said that the $70 currently being charged does not cover his department’s expenses for plumbing permits.

“By state statute the building department can neither lose money nor make money, but we are supposed to cover our expenses through permit fees,” said Smith.

County Commissioner Danny Kolhage, cautioning that he hasn’t yet heard the rationale for such a steep permit fee hike, said he does not support jacking up fees right now.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I know we’re trying to recover the cost of the permit referral process, something we didn’t have for the other systems we’ve done, but that shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the people in the Cudjoe Regional, and Key Largo who haven’t yet hooked up.”

Kolhage said that property owners wouldn’t be applying for the permits if they weren’t being forced to hook into the county’s collection system. The county in turn is under state mandate to upgrade Keys’ wastewater treatment to advanced standards by Dec. 31, 2015.

“I don’t see how we justify charging people more money for something we make them do,” he said. “It’s in our best interests to make this process as seamless and as inexpensive as possible.”

Kolhage said that the object is to encourage property owners to hook into the system.

“These types of fees will only discourage property owners from hooking up, and that’s counter-productive to what we need to accomplish,” he said.

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said that while she feels permit fees are too low and probably should be raised, those required to pull sewer hook up permits should be exempt from any increases.

“In order to be fair, I don’t see how we can raise permit fees for those who have yet to pull them when there are so many who have paid the lesser price,” said Murphy.

She said she doesn’t believe that the county can do anything about waiving or reducing fees for the permit referral profess reviews since that’s contained in the agreement with USFWS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that created the program. The new referral process was implemented so the county could get out from under the controversial FEMA injunction list.

The BOCC is expected to hear the issue at Wednesday’s November meeting.

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