BOCC: Fees remain same

By Steve Estes

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed to save property owners in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area up to $600 in permitting fees if their land is inside any one of a myriad of endangered species habitat areas.

The BOCC also voted to roll electrical permits for those remaining 1,700 or so property owners who will be placed on low-pressure grinder pump systems into the plumbing permit needed for the work, locking in the permit fees at $70 for both.

Applicants will still have to file both a plumbing and an electrical permit application, but they will only be charged the $70 fee.

Of course, the Department of Health septic tank abandonment fee will still be charged by DOH of $95.

Under current fee guidance, the building department was going to have to charge any property owner whose parcel was inside any endangered species habitat or buffer area a minimum fee of $280 for biological review of the property to see if the work done for the installation of lateral pipes would in any way impact the species habitat.

If staff found that the work wouldn’t have an effect, the minimum fee would have applied. But if the determination were made that the work could possibly have an impact, the fee could go up to $600 and would have to be routed to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for further review and an ultimate determination on impact.

That permit review process will still have to be conducted, but the homeowner will not be charged the fees, according to a late-night memo sent to county staff Wednesday night by Growth Management Director Christine Hurley.

USFWS charges no fee for the review, but officials are uncertain how long that review could potentially take.

Residents of the Cudjoe Regional, while by far the largest group that could have been affected by the extra fees, weren’t the only ones.

The county has to implement the policy throughout its jurisdiction as a result of a settlement agreement with USFWS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Because of that, permits pulled in Key Largo may have had to undergo the same level of scrutiny as well as Grassy Key where the county is just now beginning to hook people into that wastewater system.

The BOCC members made the determination in a quick vote Wednesday night when confronted with a proposal from county staff that could have tripled or quadrupled fee prices for homeowners in species habitat areas or the buffer zones for those species.

Because the installation of pipes will disturb the ground, and that might contain endangered plants or be part of the species eco-system, the extra layer of permit review was mandated when the county accepted the USFWS biological opinion in 2010, and revised in 2012 when it went into effect, in order to get out from under the infamous FEMA injunction list.

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