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.
Thursday Monroe County’s leadership was in Tallahassee to present the annual work program to the Administrative Commission, made up of the Governor and his elected cabinet.
The annual work program is a snapshot of what the county has done in the past year to achieve the end result of having itself removed from the area of critical state concern list.
The decision over what agency has final authority to decide whether residents of No Name Key seeking commercial power to the remote island can actually hook into a power grid began playing out Friday.
That day, representatives from Keys Energy Services, Monroe County, the state Public Service Commission and opposing homeowner groups from No Name Key joined together for a teleconference to set up the ground rules for what might be a precedent-setting decision.
County officials have for the better part of two years been trying to get some clarity on how the extension of commercial power, and probably water, to the island of 43 homes off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key is affected by a land development regulation they have in place.
The county’s comprehensive land use plan calls for the county to take steps to discourage further development in areas like No Name Key by a series of land development codes. One of those codes is to prohibit the extension of public utilities to or through areas designated as a federal Coastal Barrier Resource System.
Much of No Name is included in the CBRS area, but the power grid is installed running through CBRS areas to reach the homes not actually inside the CBRS boundaries.
Keys Energy has already put up the poles and lines using state authority to work inside established public rights-of-way.
But the county legal staff has opined that the building department cannot issue a permit to hook the house into that grid because of the LDR prohibition.
As expected, Circuit Court Judge David Audlin last Thursday dismissed an action by Monroe County charging Keys Energy Services with civil trespass in the installation of an electrical power grid to No Name Key.
Rather than take local steps to address some unique issues with the proposed Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system and its financial effect on end users, Monroe County is asking the state Legislature to help them out.
BOCC agrees further study needed on island issue
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed to begin the process that might end up with the county eliminating its prohibition against public utilities in areas designated as federal Coastal Barrier Resources.
If the process shows that those areas have as much protection from future development under other existing county land use regulations, the chances are that the prohibition would be lifted since there has been a distinct shift by the commission in how it views the subject.
If the process shows that only through the prohibition can county leaders ensure that sensitive environmental areas designated to provide protection to more sensitive inland areas, there still seems to be a possibility that the prohibition can be lifted.
And if the prohibition goes away, that clears the way for the issuance of building permits on No Name Key for the residents there to hook into the power grid that currently sits idle, but energized, on the remote island off the north east shore of Big Pine. It also clears the way for the issuance of permits to allow about a dozen homes on Route 905 in Key Largo to hook into planned central sewer lines.
Both those projects are currently prevented from getting permits to hook up homes due to the prohibition that has been in place for more than 10 years.
Mayor George Neugent said it is time for the county to step away from the 20-plus-year-old-fight to electrify No Name Key.