Although the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not publicly released their Major Index Crimes report for the state, the Sheriff’s Office has received information from that agency which indicates crime in the areas patrolled by the Sheriff’s Office went down in 2013 by 12.5% over the previous year.
“This is tremendous news,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. The year in question was his first year as Sheriff of Monroe County. “This is a substantial reduction in major crimes here and we should all be proud of the hard work that brought this about.”
Sheriff Ramsay attributes the lower rate of crime to the hard work of his deputies and the close partnership his agency has with the community.
As legal challenges swirl around the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System and crews continue to dig trenches and put pipe in the ground, there are still some planning events taking place that will shape the eventual look of the system.
Monroe County and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials met Wednesday afternoon to discuss some of those issues, and in most cases came away realizing there still isn’t enough information to put anything solid to paper as yet.
One of the remaining questions in the Cudjoe Regional centers on the tiny island of No Name Key.
A group of No Name Key residents succeeded in getting the Board of County Commissioners to acquiesce last year and allow commercial electrical power on the island.
But that doesn’t solve the issue outright of how the county actually brigs No Name Key up to state standards before the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline.
One of the reasons a solution is so elusive on No Name Key is that just under half the homes on the island took advantage of the ability to hook into the commercial power grid. The others either haven’t yet hooked in, or have no intention of hooking in.
And that raises some power issues for sewer planners.
The local group opposed to the installation of individual grinder pumps on private property to serve as part of a central sewage collection system for the Cudjoe Regional service area last Friday filed suit in the 16th Circuit Court in yet another attempt to stop, or at least limit, the pump installations.
In the court filing, Dump the Pumps claims that proposed design of the Cudjoe Regional does not meet the minimum state standards I the Florida Administrative Code and therefore can’t be permitted.
Representatives of Winn-Dixie Supermarkets have begun research with county staff about the possibility of placing a liquor store in the Big Pine Shopping Center where the company currently operates the island’s only grocery store.
And according to county planning staff, there is nothing in current zoning regulations for Big Pine Key that would prevent the establishment of another full liquor store on this island of roughly 5,200 full-time residents.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has agreed that the remaining Rate of Growth Ordinance building allocations should be spread out over the next 20 years instead of the 10 years now planned.
The issue arises because last year the county and state collaborated on a new hurricane evacuation clearance time model run that showed Monroe County just barely under the state mandate of 24 hours to get all the permanent residents out of the county in the face of a major hurricane that targets the island chain.
Using the little remaining time, state officials allocated 3,550 more residential building permits to the island chain before it deemed county officials could no longer clear permanent residents in less than 24 hours. Of that total, 1,970 permits will go to areas in unincorporated Monroe County with the remainder divvied out to the various municipalities.
Over the anticipated 10 years, the county would have received 197 allocations per year. Under the plan initially proposed Wednesday, those yearly allocations would lower in phases over the next 20 years.
That, says planning officials, delays the potential build-out of the Keys by an extra 10 years and gives everyone time to come up with a way not to face a potential of some $100 million in takings cases once the permits run dry.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed that residents don’t have to be 100 percent on board for long-term operations and maintenance costs of canal restoration technologies for the current demonstration projects to proceed.
Commissioners agreed that they would settle for 75 percent of the property owners prior to the project, but hinted that 100 percent participation would be the standard after the demonstration project has run its two-year course.
The county has set aside $5 million to begin the work of restoring water quality in residential canals throughout the Keys. After a lengthy study, the worst canals in the county that could be used to demonstrate five different technologies for canal enhancement were selected.
The majority of those canals were on Big Pine Key.
Crews began laying pipe Monday on Big Pine Key to add that island to the eventual Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
Crews began in the Port Pine Heights subdivision, the northernmost on the island that is the largest of the islands to be added to the Cudjoe Regional, and will continue down Key Deer Blvd. to other areas, according to Kirk Zuelch, executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.
FKAA has thus far received its state Department of Environmental Protection permit only for the northern area of Big Pine. It is awaiting DEP approval for the southern areas.
There will be approximately 2,766 hook ups to be made before Big Pine is completed.
Originally slated for grinder pump installation, Port Pine was switched over to mostly gravity lines, said Zuelch, because changes made to the per-unit cost by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners brought the area in line with other per-unit costs throughout the system.
“There are still some outlying areas of Port Pine that will get grinders, but most of it will go on gravity lines,” he said.
The two subdivisions immediately to the south of Port Pine Heights, Pine Heights/Pine Ridge and Koehn, are both slated for solely grinder pump installations.
And now that crews have reached the actual construction phase of the collection system on Big Pine, FKAA is opening a dialogue with the staff at the National Key Deer Refuge to see what pitfalls may lie in wait.
Refuge Manager Nancy Finley said she has meetings next week with FKAA staff to discuss the sewer project.
Conversations about signage along US 1, and in places adjacent to our only highway, have been going off and on for about a decade.
There are those who feel that there are too many signs and many should come down.
There are those who feel there isn’t enough signage to promote commerce and would like to see more, bigger, bolder signs than we see now tooling up or down US 1.
That conversation will continue Wednesday at the Monroe Board of County Commissioners meeting.
An ambitious plan to begin improving water quality in residential canals throughout the Florida Keys is meeting with some resistance from area property owners, several of whom don’t want to sign on for paying some operations and maintenance costs in the future.
The county has signed a pledge with the state Department of Environmental to take certain steps to cleanup what is widely viewed as lousy near-shore water quality here. Residential canals are only a part of the process. A central wastewater collection system and enhancements to stormwater runoff techniques are others.
DEP funded about $400,000 for the county to develop the canal water quality master plan and determine a process by which canals could be ranked by condition.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has set aside $5 million in infrastructure sales tax money to conduct various enhancement projects at what have been determined to be some of the poorest quality canals in the Keys, several of which are on Big Pine Key.
The canal quality steering committee chose five canals where five different enhancement techniques could be attempted to see which ones work the best, and the BOCC expanded that to seven because extra money from the original $5 million allocation was available.
In all, there are 502 canal systems in the Keys, with nearly 400 of those inside the jurisdiction of unincorporated Monroe County. Of those, about 180 were deemed of poor enough quality to require some mitigation.
Most of the canals with serious problems are the result of the initial building boom of the 1960s and 1970s when developers dredged the canals for fill to raise wetlands or add additional land for more lots. The canals in many instances were dug too deeply for the shallow receiver waters around the islands and the canals don’t properly flush with the changing tides.
The final cost estimates to develop enhancement programs for every canal deemed to be poor quality is about $100 million. County officials hope to tap further DEP and federal Environmental Protection Agency grants for some of that, as well as hoped for mitigation money from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill damage awards.
But some money will have to come from county sources.
Four fishing bridges that are also part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail were closed by the state Department of Transportation last Friday due to a concern that portions of the the spans were in danger of imminent failure.
According to the DOT report released late last week, the deck overhangs on the four bridges were all determined to be in danger of imminent failure.
The historic bridges closed were Missouri-Little Duck at mile marker 39.6; Ohio-Missouri Bridge at mile marker 39; Ohio-Bahia Honda Bridge at mile marker 38.4 and Lower Sugarloaf Bridge at mile marker 15.5.
All four of those bridges are integral parts of the Heritage Trail.