Apr 18
County lowers bar for resident approval

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed that residents don’t have to be 100 percent on board for long-term operations and maintenance costs of canal restoration technologies for the current demonstration projects to proceed.

Commissioners agreed that they would settle for 75 percent of the property owners prior to the project, but hinted that 100 percent participation would be the standard after the demonstration project has run its two-year course.

The county has set aside $5 million to begin the work of restoring water quality in residential canals throughout the Keys. After a lengthy study, the worst canals in the county that could be used to demonstrate five different technologies for canal enhancement were selected.

The majority of those canals were on Big Pine Key.

Continue reading ‘County lowers bar for resident approval’

Apr 18
Contractors start on Big Pine system

Crews began laying pipe Monday on Big Pine Key to add that island to the eventual Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.

Crews began in the Port Pine Heights subdivision, the northernmost on the island that is the largest of the islands to be added to the Cudjoe Regional, and will continue down Key Deer Blvd. to other areas, according to Kirk Zuelch, executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.

FKAA has thus far received its state Department of Environmental Protection permit only for the northern area of Big Pine. It is awaiting DEP approval for the southern areas.

There will be approximately 2,766 hook ups to be made before Big Pine is completed.

Originally slated for grinder pump installation, Port Pine was switched over to mostly gravity lines, said Zuelch, because changes made to the per-unit cost by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners brought the area in line with other per-unit costs throughout the system.

“There are still some outlying areas of Port Pine that will get grinders, but most of it will go on gravity lines,” he said.

The two subdivisions immediately to the south of Port Pine Heights, Pine Heights/Pine Ridge and Koehn, are both slated for solely grinder pump installations.

And now that crews have reached the actual construction phase of the collection system on Big Pine, FKAA is opening a dialogue with the staff at the National Key Deer Refuge to see what pitfalls may lie in wait.

Refuge Manager Nancy Finley said she has meetings next week with FKAA staff to discuss the sewer project.

Continue reading ‘Contractors start on Big Pine system’

Apr 11
Staff asks to toss sign program out

Conversations about signage along US 1, and in places adjacent to our only highway, have been going off and on for about a decade.

There are those who feel that there are too many signs and many should come down.

There are those who feel there isn’t enough signage to promote commerce and would like to see more, bigger, bolder signs than we see now tooling up or down US 1.

That conversation will continue Wednesday at the Monroe Board of County Commissioners meeting.

Continue reading ‘Staff asks to toss sign program out’

Apr 11
Canal project stalls

An ambitious plan to begin improving water quality in residential canals throughout the Florida Keys is meeting with some resistance from area property owners, several of whom don’t want to sign on for paying some operations and maintenance costs in the future.

The county has signed a pledge with the state Department of Environmental to take certain steps to cleanup what is widely viewed as lousy near-shore water quality here. Residential canals are only a part of the process. A central wastewater collection system and enhancements to stormwater runoff techniques are others.

DEP funded about $400,000 for the county to develop the canal water quality master plan and determine a process by which canals could be ranked by condition.

The Monroe Board of County Commissioners has set aside $5 million in infrastructure sales tax money to conduct various enhancement projects at what have been determined to be some of the poorest quality canals in the Keys, several of which are on Big Pine Key.

The canal quality steering committee chose five canals where five different enhancement techniques could be attempted to see which ones work the best, and the BOCC expanded that to seven because extra money from the original $5 million allocation was available.

In all, there are 502 canal systems in the Keys, with nearly 400 of those inside the jurisdiction of unincorporated Monroe County. Of those, about 180 were deemed of poor enough quality to require some mitigation.

Most of the canals with serious problems are the result of the initial building boom of the 1960s and 1970s when developers dredged the canals for fill to raise wetlands or add additional land for more lots. The canals in many instances were dug too deeply for the shallow receiver waters around the islands and the canals don’t properly flush with the changing tides.

The final cost estimates to develop enhancement programs for every canal deemed to be poor quality is about $100 million. County officials hope to tap further DEP and federal Environmental Protection Agency grants for some of that, as well as hoped for mitigation money from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill damage awards.

But some money will have to come from county sources.

Continue reading ‘Canal project stalls’

Apr 04
State closes four old bridges

Four fishing bridges that are also part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail were closed by the state Department of Transportation last Friday due to a concern that portions of the the spans were in danger of imminent failure.

According to the DOT report released late last week, the deck overhangs on the four bridges were all determined to be in danger of imminent failure.

The historic bridges closed were Missouri-Little Duck at mile marker 39.6; Ohio-Missouri Bridge at mile marker 39; Ohio-Bahia Honda Bridge at mile marker 38.4 and Lower Sugarloaf Bridge at mile marker 15.5.

All four of those bridges are integral parts of the Heritage Trail.

Continue reading ‘State closes four old bridges’

Apr 04
Legal action next for pump opponents

The gravity versus grinder pump fight is headed to court.

Dump the Pumps, a grassroots organization formed to fight against the placement of low-pressure grinder pumps in private yards as part of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, will be taking its battle to the courts in the very near future.

That follows on the heels of a state Department of Environmental Protection review that took place over the last two months and ended with the determination that the complaints filed by the group concerning the permits DEP issued to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority were insufficient.

“The Department…is in receipt of a…draft complaint…against the Department and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and has with…legal representative and FKAA representatives to discuss and resolve the maters referenced in your complaint. Regarding the various allegations, the Department has the following comments:

“The Department has reviewed the assertions made in your complaint and finds insufficient grounds upon which to take action against FKAA concerning the specific allegations,” stated the one-page letter from DEP.

“There’s no surprise there,” said Dump the Pumps President Banks Prevatt, a Little Torch Key homeowner who is slated to receive a grinder pump to connect him to the Cudjoe Regional.

“DEP is pretty autonomous in its ability to issue permits and doesn’t like to be questioned. They were part of the arrangement that allowed the county to borrow $90 million for construction of the Cudjoe Regional and the money flow makes it almost impossible for them to come up with any other answer,” said Prevatt.

Although the group held out hope that the outcome would be different, it has continued setting the stage for a coming legal battle.

Continue reading ‘Legal action next for pump opponents’

Mar 28
Anti-pump group seeks federal aid in battle

 Both sides in the gravity versus grinder battle now playing out in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area are waiting on news from the state Department of Environmental Protection concerning complaints filed by the grassroots group Dump the Pumps.

The group, fighting to have as many low-pressure grinder pumps as possible eliminated from the service area, which will ultimately serve everyone between Lower Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key, has filed appeals to the DEP permits issued to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, eventual operators of the system, claiming that the pumps don’t meet DEP specs for a public sewer system.

Continue reading ‘Anti-pump group seeks federal aid in battle’

Mar 28
Message: Don’t feed the deer

ducating residents and visitors about the hazards of feeding Key Deer was surprisingly the top concern of a group of local residents and National Key Deer Refuge personnel recently during a series of meetings dealing with strategies to protect the deer herd on Big Pine Key going forward.

The group also maintained that enforcement of feeding laws needs to be more of a priority for refuge staff.

The group met three times in the last few months to come up with ways for the refuge to enhance its Key Deer recovery plan in the coming years.

Officials have said that the deer are at or above carrying capacity on the core islands of Big Pine and No Name Keys, though have never put an updated number on the herd size.

Part of the reason they claim that the herd might be over carrying capacity is that the deer get supplemental feeding from humans in the area.

“And that’s not good for the deer,” said Nancy Finley, refuge manager.

Continue reading ‘Message: Don’t feed the deer’

Mar 21
Father Tony Mullane decides to retire

It was 26 years ago when the self-described “hippie priest” from Key West returned from an 18-month “extended walkabout” and settled into St. Peter Church on Big Pine Key.

Where Father Tony Mullane has remained.

The venerable priest who has been an icon in the Lower Keys for more than 35 years has received permission from the Archdiocese to finally hang up his cloth and retire from St. Peter Church to pursue…”not sure.”

Playing lots more golf and doing some traveling might be part of the future plans.

“You don’t plan life. It plans for you. Whatever I might plan can always be derailed by something else that takes priority,” said Mullane.

Continue reading ‘Father Tony Mullane decides to retire’

Mar 21
Engineers say methane not an issue with pump

Several hundred property owners in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater Treatment District service area continue plans to take legal action in an attempt to stop the installation of low-pressure grinder pumps on about 1,300 parcels.

Those property owners are represented by a grass roots group calling itself Dump the Pumps and are currently awaiting a review from the state Department of Environmental Protection of the permits already issued to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority for work on several of the islands inside the service area, an area that encompasses everything from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.

DEP officials said they would have answers to the Dump the Pump complaints about the planned central wastewater collection system by March 31 and the group agreed to hold off on any legal confrontations until those answers arrive.

 One of the complaints filed by the group was that the pumps to be installed on private property aren’t explosion proof as a result of build-up of methane gas from decomposing effluent remaining in the pump’s storage well between periods of use.

Many of the pumps are slated to be installed on properties where part-time residents own the home and the property isn’t rented over the long term. The part time residents will be gone six to eight months, possibly leaving effluent or other organic waste in the pump well that could turn into methane gas over time.

Some residents where the pumps have already been installed have voiced concern that there is no fitting on the pump well itself to allow for control of methane and that a build up of the gas in the pump well could be triggered to explosion level when the pump is restarted after the absence.

That possibility has been dealt with in the design of the pump wells, says Tom Walker, project engineer for the Cudjoe Regional system at FKAA.

Continue reading ‘Engineers say methane not an issue with pump’

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