Just because recreational harvesters had a pretty good mini-season last week doesn’t necessarily mean that the commercial lobster season that opens Tuesday, August 6 will be nice to local fishermen.
“We heard a lot of good things about mini-season,” said Bob Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood retail and wholesale seafood outlet on Cudjoe Key. “But we also heard some not so good things.”
That tells him that anything is possible come Tuesday when the commercial fleet gets a chance to pull its first traps from the water.
Lack of Tier One permits, new species may force the issue
It was six years in the making.
It took thousands of man hours, both paid and volunteer.
It was designed to last 20 years.
It has been in effect for just 10 years.
The purpose was aid Monroe County in protecting the 32 endangered species that call this county home, but specifically to enhance the survival prospects of the Key Deer, the Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit and the Eastern Indigo Snake.
And now, the Board of County Commissioners is strongly contemplating tossing the document in the proverbial trash and going with something different.
Monroe County, the state Department of Transportation, the then state Department of Community Affairs (now Department of Economic Opportunity), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service spent six years hammering out a development agreement for Big Pine and No Name Keys that was supposed to guide development for 20 years on the two ecologically sensitive islands.
That agreement allowed limited human development in return for mitigation in the form of conservation land purchases at a rate of three to one.
The agencies devised a rather complicated formula to determine the habitat value of each parcel of land on the two islands, that value related to the endangered species, of course, and for every percentage of H used by new development, or by enlarged redevelopment, the county had to bank three times as much H in mitigation.
The total H that could be used over the 20 years of the Incidental Take Permit that resulted from the Habitat Conservation Plan was 1.1. The mitigation required would be 3.3.
But now, the specter of additional endangered species on the two islands about to be listed by USFWS and the possibility of no more allowable development in the most environmentally sensitive areas of the two islands has Monroe County seeking a solution.
County officials need a solution that prevents probably dozens of property owners who own potentially buildable land in the Tier One areas of the two islands from filing takings cases against the county when it can no longer issue permits in that area.
And that time has come.
A group of local residents, twice turned back by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners, is considering filing legal action to stall or prevent the installation of more than 2,500 low-pressure grinder pump units throughout the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
One of the primary arguments against the extensive use of low-pressure grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System is the all-too-frequent occurrences of extended power outages.
Even without a hurricane blasting its way through the Keys, which hasn’t happened for seven years now, power outages here are more frequent than in many places around the country.
And those who don’t feel low-pressure grinder pumps will provide the best performance for the dollar argue that while the reported two-day storage capacity of the pump holding tank will get them through the short outages that happen with regularity, the longer outages that are caused by storms might wind up being a mess for homeowners who have the grinder pump systems in their yards.
“We have a few different ways to handle that situation,” said Don Hubb, assistant engineering director for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.
The FKAA is the entity responsible for overseeing construction of the Cudjoe Regional and then for operating and maintaining the system when it comes on line.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners is the entity charged with paying for the construction of the system and makes decisions about what areas are serviced by the central collection system and what areas are serviced by upgraded on-site treatment plants. The BOCC also had to approve the eventual designs for the Cudjoe Regional system, which includes just under 2,800 grinder pumps, with about half of those to be on Big Pine Key.
Some Cudjoe Key residents have already begun to question the decision to include so many grinder pumps in the system design, and community meetings for the outer islands portion of that system, Lower Sugarloaf and Ramrod through Big Pine Key, have just begun, whereupon property owners in those areas will learn if they’re in low-pressure areas..
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 people are expected to begin invading the Keys this weekend to take advantage of the annual lobster mini-season recreational season.
Mini-season is scheduled for July 24 and 25 this year and begins at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and ends at midnight Thursday.
After more than a decade of existence, the Big Pine Academy, formerly the Big Pine Neighborhood Charter School, may be in line for a school crossing zone designation from the state Department of Transportation.
The Monroe Parks and Recreation Advisory Board this week agreed to support a request from the Big Pine and Lower Keys Rotary Club to research the feasibility of building a small amphitheater on vacant area inside the Big Pine Key Community Park.
The idea got its impetus from the recent successful hosting of the annual July 4th celebration at the park for the first time.
That event was the best-attended event ever staged at the park and included a music component with live bands.
As residents across Big Pine spend their days huddled indoors or busily swatting mosquitoes, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District and US Fish and Wildlife Service are in what both hope is the final days of finalizing the annual permit that will allow the bug killers to redeploy spray trucks on the island.
The two agencies collaborate every year on a new federal permit to authorize the use of aerial mosquito toxin. This year, the permit lapsed before it was finalized, so the bug control district has been unable to spray for adult mosquitoes on Big Pine for more than two weeks.
And once that permit is issued, the rules surrounding spraying on Big Pine will probably be more restrictive than they have been the last five or six years.
At the crux of the issue is the Bartram’s and Leafwing butterflies. Both are expected to be listed in short order as endangered species under the auspices of the federal Endangered Species Act. USFWS is the oversight agency responsible for species protection under the ESA.
According to a recent letter from USFWS to Monroe County, Big Pine Key is one of only two locations in the United States where the Bartram’s Butterfly exists. The service is unsure if any Leafwing Butterflies still exist, but Big Pine does contain suitable habitat for the existence of the butterfly. Regardless of location, the service estimates that less than 800 adult Bartram’s and less than 200 adult Leafwing butterflies remain.
The critical habitat for the butterflies is pine rockland, where nearly all of the US’s remaining stock is located on Big Pine Key. Pine rocklands are home to croton, which is the nesting plant for the butterflies.
In order to conduct aerial spraying of adulticide for mosquitoes, the district needed to supply USFWS with drift pattern studies to show where insect toxins might disperse from aerial spraying.
That information was supplied Tuesday, said FKMCD Executive Director Mike Doyle.
The potential prescribed burn season is underway for the National Key Deer Refuge, and officials there have two planned burn areas and are simply “waiting for the right circumstances,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service Burn Specialist John Wallace.
The refuge conducted no burns last year in the wake of a September 10, 2011 fire that got out of control and burned just over 100 acres on Big Pine when the burn was slated for 22 acres.
“Nobody should have ignited a burn in those conditions,” said Bob Ehrig, Big Pine. Ehrig was part of teams a couple of decades ago that conducted burns in this area.
And since then, Ehrig has pushed for stricter ignition standards.
The 2011 wildfire forced the evacuation of 421 homes in the Pine Heights/Pine Ridge subdivision of Big Pine located just west of the Blue Hole observation area. It also burned most of the area surrounding the Blue Hole, a favorite refuge spot for wildlife gazing.
Following that wildfire, the refuge agreed to change its ignition standards, but even those standards aren’t tough enough for him to spark a blaze, said Wallace.
“There will be no uncontrolled burns on my watch,” he said.
The potential burn areas for this year are in approximately the same general area though on the east side of Key Deer Blvd.
Even though officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have agreed that the pilot inspection program for lower level enclosures is over, the ramifications of that program may continue for some properties.