The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season could be a real yawner if early forecasts hold true.
Phil Klotzbach and William Gray released their outlook Thursday, calling for nine named storms, including three hurricanes, one intense. That’s far below the average of 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, three major.
Florida’s stone crab season closed yesterday, and for most of those in the commercial fishing industry, only one word sums up the season—bad.
Prices at the wholesale and retail levels remained strong throughout the season, but “Somebody forgot to tell the crabs that we were paying good money for them,” said Bobby Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood seafood market on Cudjoe Key.
He said that catch this year was down about 30 percent from last year, and last year was poor compared to year’s prior.
Officials with the grassroots organization Dump the Pumps, which is fighting against the installation of low-pressure grinder pumps in private yards as part of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, say they are absolutely astounded that their complaints against permits issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection for construction of that system have gone unheeded.
The group has filed a protest to five permits in the last three weeks, two on Big Pine Key, one for Little Palm Island, one for Upper Sugarloaf Key and the latest for the force main that runs between Big Pine Key and Ramrod Key.
According to state regulations, those protests should have stopped all work on the Cudjoe Regional covered by those permits.
But contractors for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority continue to dig trenches and lay pipe in the north Big Pine region and Upper Sugarloaf.
The trapping of feral cats on federal lands across Big Pine Key has gotten off to a quiet start.
Once a highly controversial program, the National Key Deer Refuge has been been involved in an ongoing trapping program seeking free-roaming cats in sensitive habitat areas for several months.
The largest canal restoration project proposal in the Lower Keys has hit yet another snag.
Monroe County is in the early stages of a pilot project in canal restoration. For this project, the Board of County Commissioners set aside $5 million in infrastructure money, five canals were selected, then three more were added with more money left over in the pot, and planning began.
Engineers plan to try one of five different techniques in each canal in an effort to restore water quality in residential canals, a quality that has been on the decline nearly as long as there have been residential units on the canals.
Officials announced last week that the Eden Pines subdivision canal system on Big Pine Key, with about 450 residential properties, will have to go back on the design board for now.
Eden Pines is slated for a demonstration pumping project.
But the initial design didn’t pass muster with federal officials at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
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.