Claim emotional distress over electrification issue
Two No Name Key families are asking the courts to award them $10 million for emotional trauma brought about by Monroe County’s refusal to issue building permits to allow them to hook into energized energy wires running just yards from their homes.
The suit is the latest in a lengthy litany of lawsuits filed over the potential electrification of the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key.
It is now running concurrently with at least four other legal battles in three separate venues dealing with the electrification of No Name Key.
There has never been commercial power to No Name Key. The 43 homes on the island, 22 of which have signed on for commercial power through Keys Energy Services, are powered by solar arrays, generators, or a combination of the two.
James and Ruth Newton and Robert and Julianne Reynolds filed the suit last Thursday in the circuit court of Judge David Audlin who already has two No Name electrification cases on his docket.
Circuit Court Judge David Audlin is expected to hear more legal arguments Friday morning in the cases surrounding the electrification of No Name Key.
Audlin has already ruled on one No Name Key case, the original declaratory action filed by the county against Keys Energy Services.
Two considered on Big Pine Key
Next month, the Monroe Board of County Commissioners will hear about plans to begin the process of building scenic overlooks along the Overseas Heritage Trail.
And two of the areas where overlooks are being contemplated are on Big Pine Key.
The first is at the sight of the old swimming hole on the island’s west end.
Before about 10 years ago, the area was a popular meeting place for locals as an impromptu swimming hole and picnic area. It also long served as a dinghy landing for the liveaboard boaters moored in North Pine Channel, as well as a shelter from storms for those same boaters’ vessels.
Then came the stranding of a pod of pilot whales off the shores of Big Pine Key and the use of the old swimming hole as a rehabilitation site for those whales. The depth of the water, easy access from the highway, ample parking and controlled access points by land and water made the site ideal for the rehabilitation effort.
The land was also owned by a state agency, so permission wasn’t an issue. The rehabilitation effort spanned nearly a year and after the whales were released at sea, the state Department of Environmental Protection was supposed to pay to have the waters cleaned of the massive amounts of whale feces dumped during the rehab effort. But that never happened and instead, DEP closed the area to vehicular traffic.
At one point, the county had management authority for the area, then maintenance was turned over to the National Key Deer Refuge, which then turned over maintenance to DEP with the advent of the first miles of Heritage Trail on Big Pine Key.
And for the time since the whale stranding event, the area has, for the most part, been closed for public use.
County commissioners Wednesday decided that they want a more extensive review of what could happen if they were to change wording in the county’s land use comprehensive plan that currently prohibits the extension of public utilities into areas designated by the federal government as Coastal Barrier Resource Areas.
That discussion was sparked last month after the commission, again, discussed an ongoing legal battle with Keys Energy Services and 22 residents of No Name Key over the development of commercial power to the island.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday decided to add more than 150 users to the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System that previously were in areas where central sewers wasn’t slated to go.
The largest of those additions was the Long Beach Road area of Big Pine Key where officials estimate 44 properties would be added to the Cudjoe Regional system at a cost of about $15,000 per. But by adding that area to the system, officials also gain the Big Pine Fishing Lodge, which county engineer Kevin Wilson estimates is about 30 equivalent dwelling units.
“By adding the fishing lodge, that brings the cost per EDU way down and makes that portion of the project quite low,” said Wilson.
Adding the areas may force further actions by the BOCC such as the need to change the adopted wastewater master plan to include those areas in the central system.
Wilson has already learned that the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees land use issues in the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern, will not object to adding additional units.
But what the move will also force is a policy discussion in the very near future about how to handle properties included in the expanded areas that have for more than a decade been told they won’t be part of the central system and using that knowledge, have already installed systems that meet minimum state standards, sometimes at a cost of up to $25,000.
Wilson said there is no concrete plan in place to deal with those folks as yet, but did have some suggestions.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners will be asked Wednesday if they want to expand the proposed Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system by an additional 137 users in the outer islands portion of the project.
If the answer is yes, some property owners that have been told they won’t be on the central sewer system for nearly a decade, will indeed be added to the hundreds of miles of pipe that will criss-cross the island of the Cudjoe Regional service area.
Property owners in both the inner and outer service areas of the proposed Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system have some pointed questions for county officials on financing issues for the system development fees.
Property owners included in the inner service area of Upper Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Summerland Key were assessed their first yearly installment of the development fees on the tax bills that came from the county this year. And just over 18 percent of the folks in that proposed service area have already prepaid their fees of $4,500 per EDU.
That being the case, why does the county still base its financing on $40 million for the entire Cudjoe Regional system, when it will only have to borrow $36 million for the revenue estimated from that source?
Bill Hunter, public policy chairman of the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association, questions that thought process as well as why the number seems to be stuck on something approaching $40 million.
The county has as yet borrowed no money for the Cudjoe Regional, meaning there has been no interest to pay. The amortized payment is estimated to be $402 per year per EDU (equivalent dwelling unit) and that includes an interest payment yearly based on five percent of the total borrowed.
“It stands to reason if we borrow less, the interest payment is less, and the yearly assessment drops accordingly,” said Hunter.
He is also concerned that the county plans to charge residents the estimated revenue from assessment fees instead of the actual revenue from those fees.
The world continued, but some Monroe issues came nearly to an end
The year 2012 started off with some low points, scored some lower points, hit a high note, and finished with a flash.
From bad crap to good crap
It was the year of ups and downs for the county’s last remaining central wastewater system, the Cudjoe Regional. As 2012 dawned into the history books, county officials were told that there was very little chance they would get any of the promised $200 million in grant money from the state because Gov. Rick Scott disliked debt. That sent officials scrambling back to the drawing board trying to find a way to raise $150 million that wouldn’t send every resident in the Keys to the poor house.
The Third District Court of Appeals has overturned a local court ruling that said the county did not adversely affect property in the Galleon Bay subdivision of No Name Key
And that latest reversal on appeal could cost the county upwards of $3 million in a takings settlement.
As 2013 becomes another year just around the corner, there will be some continuing hot button issues facing Monroe County, some partial resolutions to some hot button issues, and some new ones cropping up.
County leaders will, either through the courts or through their own actions, will finally, maybe, possibly, then again possibly not, put to rest the two-plus-decade old issue of electrification of No Name Key, and with that possibly open the door to public infrastructure in other environmentally sensitive areas.
Should the Board of County Commissioners agree to change the language surrounding Coastal Barrier Resource Systems in the county, Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District will extend public sewers up 905, and the Cudjoe Regional may expand into some areas where it is currently prohibited to issue building permits.
“Now that we have a multitude of issues facing us in that regard, it’s a discussion we have to have on a policy level very soon,” said Gastesi.
The Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System will at long last get some pipes in the ground.
But there will also be some changes in the county’s oft maligned building department.