If all goes well, the Monroe County Mosquito Control District might be able to start spraying for adult mosquitoes on Big Pine and No Name Keys about the time rainy season rolls into town.
The district has been under a series of one-year special use permits from the US Fish and Wildlife Service for more than two decades. And until last year, the renewal of those permits was more or less automatic, resulting in no interruption of mosquito spraying on the two islands, with some restrictions.
But early last year, USFWS announced plans to add the Bartram’s scrub hairstreak and Florida Leafwing butterflies to the already lengthy list of endangered critters on Big Pine and No Name Keys, and declared that the insecticide used by the mosquito district was killing those winged creatures.
The butterflies prefer a habitat of croton plants, which are abundant on the National Key Deer Refuge. That refuge covers a large portion of Big Pine Key and all of No Name Key. The mosquito district has to have a special use permit to ply its trade on refuge lands.
The problem arose because the district couldn’t guarantee that its insecticide of choice wasn’t killing butterflies. With the lack of that guarantee, refuge officials wouldn’t grant another yearly special use permit. Without the permit, the district couldn’t spray on refuge lands.
The problem was exacerbated because many of the residential areas on Big Pine Key and No Name Key are either bordered by refuge-owned lands, or in close proximity to refuge lands. The district was at that time unable to supply a drift-rate analysis that showed how far its adultacide spray might travel and what toxicity levels it retained at that maximum drift.
No permit. No spray missions to kill adult mosquitoes.
The Monroe County Planning Commission will hear a new plan next week that if approved by planners and the Board of County Commissioners next month, will force more properties into direct consultation with US Fish and Wildlife Services for development permits.
The new proposal piggybacks on the recently enacted Permit Review Process. That program was put into place to allow the county to negate the infamous FEMA injunction list.
Members of the Monroe Board of County Commissioners last month said they had taken their final action on converting those properties in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Service area slated to be served by low-pressure grinder pumps into gravity pipes.
In three separate actions, the BOCC moved more than 1,400 properties from grinder pump service to gravity pipes.
But those actions left more than 1,300 properties slated to receive grinder pumps instead of gravity lines.
And many of the homeowners left with the pumps still don’t want them. And they’re still not done trying to get someone, anyone, to change the commission’s mind on converting more of the remaining properties to gravity pipes.
The BOCC basically agreed to convert those homes where the average cost to reach the home with gravity lines came in around $30,000 each or less. Many of the subdivisions asking for conversion could cost the county upwards of $50,000 each to reach with gravity lines.
But the residents maintain that gravity is the best way to go in the long term and have begun a legal battle to force the county’s hand.
A grassroots group was formed by local residents, titled Dump the Pumps, with the specific purpose of making it inconvenient for the BOCC not to convert the remaining properties.
The opening salvo of the group, after being rebuffed by the county commission, was to file an appeal of the permits issued to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
FKAA is the de facto general contractor for the system installation and will operate and maintain the Cudjoe Regional after it’s built. The county is the funding conduit and unless commissioners agree to cut loose more money, the gravity/grinder hybrid system will remain as amended last month.
Promises plan for band shell at next meet
Suggestions by the Monroe County Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Monday night met with a mixed bag of resistance and some support from neighbors of the Big Pine Community Park.
The parks board discussed extending the operating hours of the park to 9 p.m. from its current 8:30 p.m.
That suggestion met with concerns from the local residents who preferred that the lights for the park continue to go dark at 8:30.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday will start the laborious process of trying to find a way to dodge what could be more than $300 million in potential land takings law suits beginning in 2023.
Monroe County is under state mandate to maintain a hurricane evacuation clearance time of less than 24 hours for permanent residents. The state regulates the number of residential building permits each year to Monroe County based largely on the amount of time it takes to clear the permanent residents in the face of an impending storm.
After more than a year of date-gathering and negotiations, the county and state ran a clearance model last year that determined there are 3,550 residential permits remaining before the county exceeds that 24-hour clearance time mandate.
And after those permits are issued, that leaves unincorporated Monroe County and its municipalities with 7,814 vacant parcels without an allocation left to issue.
Of course, all of those parcels won’t be buildable, says County Growth Management Director Christine Hurley. Some of them will be sensitive species habitat. Some of them will be wetlands. Some of them will not meet size and scope criteria in the particular zoning district.
But there will be enough left that county officials believe they may be facing takings cases that could cost the taxpayer upwards of $100 million after the allocations run dry.
So the issue becomes two-fold for the commissioners.
There will be 201 fewer properties that will be on low-pressure grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area after approval by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners Friday to add another $2.4 million in capital funding to convert them to gravity pipes instead.
Residents in 13 different subdivisions, representing 1,059 properties, have asked over the course of the last few months to have the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority prepare an estimate on what it would cost to switch their much-maligned grinder pumps to gravity pipes.
The total for all 13 areas was just over $23.5 million.
And that was an added expense the county commissioners just felt they couldn’t go for.
Commissioner Danny Kolhage felt he could go for another $17 million or so to add nine of the 13 areas because the added cost per EDU (equivalent dwelling unit) wasn’t completely out of sight.
Commissioner Heather Carruthers agreed with his stance, but the two were on the short end of a 3-2 vote.
Commissioner David Rice switched his vote on the $2.4 million addition, joining Kolhage and Carruthers, approving the elimination of those 201 units from the grinder pump systems, with the commission split 3-2 again.
But it was a contentious meeting getting to that point.
Board to discuss changing hours, skate park removal, new amphitheater
The Monroe Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will meet in Big Pine next Monday night in a meeting that may well decide the future of the skate park at the Big Pine Community Park.
According to Steve Miller, board chairman, the skate park isn’t being used to anywhere near acceptable levels.
“The skate park hasn’t been used much since the park opened,” said Miller.
In what many hope will be the last time, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners Friday will hear arguments from local residents about what type of sewer collection pipe they want in front of their homes.
And the room is expected to be packed with those who will be asking the commissioners to rid them of the low-pressure grinder pump systems and instead put a gravity collection pipe in the road for them to hook into.
When originally bid for construction, the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, which covers everyone from Lower Sugarloaf to Big Pine Key, had about 2,800 properties that were slated for grinder pump installation.
The BOCC has already agreed to pony up just over $11 million additional to take 1,100 of those pumps out of the system, leaving about 1,600.
The local grassroots group that has dubbed itself Dump the Pumps, with a mission to attempt to eradicate low-pressure grinder pumps from as much of the under-construction Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System as possible has filed an administrative appeal with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In that appeal,the group alleges that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority has ignored state regulations in its development of the regional wastewater collection system and asks the DEP to reign in the system.
And investigators are no closer to solving the string of abuse crimes.
“I’m just glad it’s stopped,” said Maya Totman, director of the non-profit Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue Center on Big Pine Key.
Totman and her volunteers were involved in more than a dozen rescue attempts of brown pelicans over the span of a few weeks, but weren’t able to get to all the skittish birds they were tipped off to by angered and concerned folks.
Totman said she was alerted to the situation by long-time local charter boat Captain Jim Sharpe Sr. who found an injured pelican while on a run a abut six weeks ago.
When Sharpe and his crew were able to reach the bird, he discovered that its throat pouch had been slit cleanly.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Officer Steve Berger said at the time that the wounds were obviously caused by some human-manufactured instrument, and probably wielded by human hands.
Berger said this isn’t the first time they have found pelicans apparently mutilated by humans.