Local US Fish and Wildlife service personnel, consultants from Penn State University and local activists plan to get together on a series of meetings beginning next month to flesh out an enhanced recovery plan for the endangered Key Deer.
The National Key Deer Refuge has been operating on a recovery plan for the Keys Deer that was developed in the last 1990s by researcher Roel Lopez. Using that general plan, the refuge has undertaken both water and habitat restoration project, and has completed at least two translocation projects that moved the deer from their primary herd location on Big Pine and No Name Key to Sugarloaf and Cudjoe Keys.
Though for a number of years the refuge has stood by its census count of 750 deer in the herd, most locals realize that anecdotal evidence says there are more deer than that roaming the two primary islands, not counting the 50 or 60 that now call the two western islands home.
The working group will be led by white-tail deer expert Duane Diefenbach, PhD, an adjunct professor of wildlife ecology at Penn State University. Diefenbach is well known in wildlife circles for his research on white-tail deer. The endangered Key Deer is a sub-species of the white-tail population.
Diefenbach says that the series of workshops will be to identify goals and objectives for maximizing the long-term survival of the species and minimize human-deer conflicts.
He calls this the first step to prioritizing actions to protect the Key Deer long term.
The research is being funded by the local refuge.
“The refuge is initiating this work to improve understanding and integration of community concerns and needs into the long-term management of Key Deer,” said Refuge Manager Nancy Finley.
A consultant’s report has quashed a local effort to get a school zone area implemented for the Big Pine Academy.
But the same report also details another way to go about accomplishing the same thing and help keep the children who attend the school safer while going to and from the facility on Big Pine Key.
According to a URS report last week, the implementation of a school zone at the Big Pine Academy would not meet any of the minimum standards set out by the state for such a facility.
While the Monroe Board of County Commissioners plans to listen at least one more time to arguments about which properties remain on grinder pump systems in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, some local residents plan to continue the fight well beyond that point.
A couple of months ago, residents in the Cudjoe Gardens and Upper Sugarloaf Key area successfully lobbied the BOCC to take them off the much-maligned grinder pump service for central sewer service and instead replace those pipes with a gravity system.
While the commissioners were on that decision, they also decided to convert four Big Pine Key areas from grinder pump service to gravity service.
And some thought that was the end of the discussion.
At November’s meeting, the BOCC asked county staff and officials from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority to take one last look at similar subdivisions and come back with a recommendation on which ones can economically be converted from grinder to gravity to put the issue to rest and get on with the remainder of the project.
That might not be enough.
It appears as though the long dormant old Big Pine swimming hole at the island’s west end will see new life in the near future.
As part of this budget year, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners set aside $1 million to develop a passive recreational park at the site.
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.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners collectively seemed to agree Wednesday that it would cease changing its collective mind on what type of wastewater collection system would be available in the various subdivisions that comprise the Cudjoe Regional service area….next month.
Last month, the BOCC members approved converting some areas on Cudjoe Key, Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key from low-pressure grinder pumps to gravity pipes, at a cost of about $10 million in additional money.
Wednesday commissioners seemed loathe to add any more money to the now $170-million project, but will accept analysis on similar subdivisions from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority next month to make the final/final decision on what changes may or may not be made.
County Engineer Kevin Wilson told the BOCC that he felt the FKAA and county staff had done study on other areas that might fall within the parameters set by the commission in recent decisions, and “We are at the point where we have made all the changes we feel fall within those parameters and it’s time to begin to move forward.”
FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch said that the changes being made may well push the project completion past the state’s mandated deadline of Dec. 31, 2015 for the implementation of advanced wastewater treatment in the Keys, and that date may go further south if more changes are made.
Volunteers need space for booked events
Even though Monroe County leadership made the decision to convert the formerly all-volunteer Sugarloaf Fire Department to a partial career force a few months back, the two sides in the ongoing struggle have yet to reach common ground on how exactly that plays out in the future.
While the county pays for the equipment and the career firefighters at the station, the station itself and the land it sits on are owned by the volunteer corporation.
After several rebukes of the county’s move to put paid personnel there, the volunteer corporation finally acquiesced and agreed that for proper coverage of the Sugarloaf area, a mixture of paid and volunteer personnel would be necessary.
New program adds a step for Big Pine: Staff seeks cost increase
For Big Pine Key residents, the questions surrounding hooking into the county’s wastewater treatment system will definitely be varied.
Will I be on gravity or grinder?
Will I need power or not?
When will my street be finished?
Then add the multitude of permitting questions still up in the air.
How much for the plumbing permit?
How much for the electrical permit if I need it?
How much for the septic abandonment permit if I need it?
But for property owners in the more remote areas of Big Pine Key, there is an additional layer of questions to be answered before hookup to any type of pipe can begin.
It was tempestuous crowd Monday night at the Lower Keys Property Owners building on Big Pine Key that hurled questions at representatives from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority about the plans for wastewater service in the Cudjoe Regional System.
The majority of those in the standing-room only crowd had one mission, and that was to convince the FKAA that grinder pumps were a bad option.
That decision, said FKAA Executive Director Kirk Zuelch, is not entirely up to the utility.
With about eight months to go before a more extensive repair takes place, county engineering officials are making plans to undertake some emergency repairs on the No Name Key Bridge.
During one of the many periodic bridge surveys done by the state Department of Transportation, inspectors discovered some spalling issues on the nearly 50-year-old span that require immediate attention.
According to County Engineering Director Judy Clarke, inspectors noticed the spalling under a bearing plate that supports one of the beams for the bridge.
It is the second such finding in the last two years on No Name Key Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1964 and such structures are estimated to have a 50-year life span, meaning No Name Key Bridge, also known as Old Wooden Bridge, is approaching the end of its estimated useful life span.
Clarke said county crews immediately shifted traffic off the affected section.
She is currently working with the design consultant that worked on the more extensive repair project that is several months away for a repair design, and hopes to have that complete in short order.
The optimal plan, she says, is to ask the Board of County Commissioners for permission to suspend the normal purchasing process for major projects in light of the emergent nature of the need to repair the bridge. Normally that project would go out for bids for about 30 days, with another 30 days for review and approval by the BOCC and another 30 days to mobilize a contractor to do the work.