Editor’s Note: The following contains commentary from the author.
A hot summer night on the waterfront on Big Pine Key. Thousands of people pack the park grounds. Overhead, on a starry, clear night, fireworks burst against a black sky, drawing oohs and aahs from the packed house while patriotic music fills the air.
For hours prior to that, those same thousands munched on holiday fare, tipped back a few cold ones and listened to a free concert from a local band, dancing toward nightfall. Not a dime is charged for the pleasure.
Such is the finale to the annual Independence Day celebration.
Feeding the gator makes for aggressive actions by reptile
National Key Deer Refuge officials closed the Blue Hole observation area briefly last weekend when the resident alligator decided to get a little too friendly.
Visitors reported that the resident alligator, a mid-size female about four feet in length, had crawled up onto the observation platform with humans already there.
“We had reports that the alligator was displaying aggressive behavior so we thought it best to give the animal time to return to natural conditions,” said Nancy Finley, new refuge manager.
Refuge staff re-evaluated the situation on Monday, she said, and the gator seemed to be calmer after its cool down period so the Blue Hole area was reopened.
She said that according to sources with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the alligator’s behavior is typical of like animals that are in close contact with humans over a long period.
US Fish and Wildlife Officer Steve Berger said that the problem stems from humans feeding the alligator.
“Unfortunately, the alligator is getting used to being fed by humans so it seeks them out for more food,” he said.
Eight firms have responded to Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe’s request for qualifications to conduct a study that the grassroots advocacy group hopes will prove once and for all that windstorm rates charged by Citizens Insurance in the Florida Keys are exorbitant.
FIRM has been fighting what it calls unfair windstorm insurance rates in Monroe County since 2006 when the company tried to more than double local premiums.
Though this weekend marks the actual close of lobster season, the season has been all but closed for months.
When the first traps came out of the water in August, everyone connected with the lobster fishery was in good spirits because the catch was strong.
Not as strong as they had hoped, but then again, it never is.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has decided to front $5 million from its own coffers to begin what promises to be a lengthy and expensive process to restore residential canals.
And the hope is that the county will qualify for at least $30 million in oil spill money through the RESTORE Act to help pay for a large portion of the costs to complete the project.
Consultants for the county say that of the 500-plus residential canal systems in the Keys, at least 126 will need some form of restoration. And that doesn’t include some of the larger canal systems in the Key Largo area that were dredged so deeply they can’t flush and will cost several million each to restore the degraded water quality.
The consultants told commissioners last week that excluding the very deep canals, about $27 million might be the price tag for the project.
The reasons for the degraded water quality in Keys canals are many.
County commissioners Wednesday approved a grant from the state Department of Transportation for $1.2 million that is destined to develop scenic overlooks along the course of US 1 as part of the Scenic Highway program.
And two of those potential locations could be on Big Pine Key.
Changes are coming in the way Monroe County handles commercial growth.
Under the current system of Non-Residential Rate of Growth, for every new residential unit that is built, 239 square feet of additional commercial square footage is allowed.
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.
Resort seeks takeover of park infrastructure
Venture Out Resort on Cudjoe Key has filed a declaratory action in the local circuit court against the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Monroe County over the resort’s treatment in development of the Cudjoe Regional wastewater system.
Venture Out, with 659 individual homeowners as part of a more massive resort, has been operating its own wastewater system for years.
Now, the park is slated to become part of the county’s Cudjoe Regional system.
Precision engineering may be the answer to a potential snag in reaching Ramrod Key through Big Pine Key with the now-started Cudjoe Regional wastewater system.
The regional system, which will serve the equivalent of 8,800 homes from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key, is based on a single treatment plant at the landfill on Cudjoe Key that will service areas east and west. It is also based on a single transmission main running along US 1 from Big Pine to the plant on Cudjoe.\ and from the plant to Lower Sugarloaf Key.
One of the engineering snags all along for the regional project has been how to traverse Niles Channel between Summerland Key and Ramrod Key.
Original designs called for the transmission main to run inside the bridge alongside an already existing water main.
But the State Department of Transportation has nixed that idea, claiming that the bridge may not withstand the extra weight in its current condition. Many of the bridges along US 1 are approaching, or have exceeded, their useful 50-year life span. Just last year, a piece of the old Niles Channel Bridge broke free and fell into the waters below.
While engineers have no fear that the bridge won’t handle existing weight loads, they are unwilling to add the extra weight of a sewer transmission line to the support structure.
To get around that glitch, the county has authorized an extra $4 million or so to allow the contractor to directional bore under the bridge through the sea bed below for the transmission main.