The Sir Isaac Newton Coalition, a loosely-organized group of property owners in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area Thursday morning was expected to file legal action against the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Monroe County over the two agency’s handling of the sewer collection system.
Walt Drabinski, owner of Pirate Wellness on Cudoe Key and an independent energy consultant with Vantage Consulting, said the action has three immediate goals.
Monroe County officials continue to look at suggestions to increase the size of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
This time, they were pitched the idea of adding exclusive resort Little Palm Island to the mix.
According to County Engineer Kevin Wilson, adding Little Palm to the central collection system should be cost neutral.
Monroe County officials decided last week that the era of the all-volunteer fire station in the Keys is going to have to come permanently to a close.
The Board of County Commissioners approved a $475,000 expenditure in the coming fiscal year to place paid firefighting staff at the Sugarloaf Fire Station.
Other than a few months last year, Station 10 has been an all-volunteer force throughout its history.
County Fire Chief Jim Callahan said he recognized potential issues at the station last year when he tried, only partially successfully, to install a paid force at the facility.
He said that the volunteer pool has begun to shrink throughout the island chain and that Sugarloaf could no longer meet reasonable response times.
Then came the annual insurance hazard rating inspection and officials expected this year’s rating to come in at a 10, with one the best. As a result of that possible rating, homeowner’s insurance premiums for those properties covered by Sugarloaf could have “doubled, tripled, maybe even get canceled,” said Callahan.
Due to the station’s label as all-volunteer, the rating didn’t take into account the proximity of Big Coppitt at mile marker 11 and Cudjoe at mile marker 21, said fire board member Kevin Gerard.
The new wastewater collection system for the Cudjoe Regional area will span several bridges along US 1 before its completion in what is expected to be just over two years.
But where the pipes run across those water channels may change as the project progresses.
Though it may be a year or more until property owners inside the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area will need to even consider having to hook up their homes to a pipe in the street,the time to start streamlining that process is now.
So says County Mayor George Nuegent, whose District Two seat encompasses all of what will be the Cudjoe Regional from Lower Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.
The county currently has building department offices in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo. For folks on Big Pine, that means a drive of anywhere from 24 miles to 30 miles to apply for what may be a simple over the counter permit.
Homeowners will have to have a plumbing permit from the county to hook their house drain into the sewer mains, or into the grinder pump if they’re on that system. That permit right now is priced at $70. For those who need a separate electrical power supply for the 240-volt, 30-amp exterior service to run the grinder pump, that permit is priced right now at $150.
But people will have to lose the better part of a day to drive from almost anywhere in the Cudjoe Regional service area to a building department office to apply for that permit, wait until it makes the rounds inside the office, if it can be done in one day,and then return to display the permit before any work can start.
Of course, the county’s plumbing permit can’t be obtained until the homeowner has received a septic tank abandonment permit from the Monroe County Health Department Environmental Services section, at a cost expected to be about $90.
“When streets start coming up for hook ins, there are going to be a lot of people at the building counter trying to get the permits and get started,” said Neugent. “To ask them to drive for a half hour or more in any direction and then wait, maybe, is asking them to devote a lot of time.”
Big Pine canals may qualify for that dubious distinction
Once county officials settle on what five canals they plan to use $5 million on for test projects in what is estimated to be a $300 million overall project, most of the test canals will probably be from Big Pine Key.
“At least four of the five worst canals in terms of water quality are all on Big Pine Key,” said County Mayor George Neugent, whose District Two encompasses Big Pine.
County consultants recently completed the initial fact-finding phase of the canal restoration project by visiting each of the island chain’s 502 canal systems.
The ultimate goal was to get down to the five worst canals that fit inside the Board of County Commissioner’s $5 million initial budget.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service last week notified the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it would be reopening required agency consultation on the Biological Opinion that currently guides Monroe County development in potential endangered species habitat.
And by default, that new consultation will also require reopening the Habitat Conservation Plan for Big Pine and No Name Keys.
The reason for the new negotiation is that USFWS recently listed the Miami Blue butterfly as endangered. That rare butterfly is thought to be present in Monroe County and the service didn’t account for the species when it issued the original opinion in 2010.
FWS also plans to list two other butterflies that occur on Big Pine Key and possibly elsewhere in the Keys, and the imminent listing of those species will result in some changes in development restrictions in areas of habitat for the two butterflies.
Big Pine is already embroiled in a battle over the butterflies as USFWS and the Mosquito Control District try to work out a permit to allow mosquito spraying on the largest island in the Lower Keys, which also happens to be home to a majority of the 32 endangered species that call the Keys home.
During Wednesday’s discussion of canal restoration projects by the Monroe Board of County Commissioners, the members seemed to get a little too hung up on ownership of the canals in the Florida Keys.
Like every other geographic feature in the Keys, canal ownership is a mish-mash of public and private, often overlapping on the same street, sometimes meeting in the middle of the canal.
But we believe the argument is simple.
The residential canals of the Florida Keys all, repeat all, feed the near shore waters and thus have an effect on our water clarity and quality.
The problems with water quality in our residential canals are many and long-standing.
Monroe County’s Truth in Millage Notices (TRIM) were mailed Friday and began appearing in various mailboxes late Monday or later in the week.
The TRIM notices are estimated tax bills for the coming year that outline the valuation of the property and what the various taxing authorities are charging for services in the coming year.
And for some, those notices may have carried a little bit of shocking news.
2012 sets record for deer deaths on roads
More deer were killed by vehicle collisions last year than at any time in the history of the National Key Deer Refuge.
According to Monroe County’s annual report to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 150 deer died due to vehicle strikes. Overall, 197 deer died in 2012, another record mortality count.
Under the terms of the Incidental Take Permit between Monroe County and the USFWS, if the ratio of deer killed by human causes to the number of deer counted by refuge personnel in regular road sightings tops 1.5, the refuge has options that include declaring a human development moratorium on Big Pine and No Name Keys until a method is devised to bring the ratio back down. The 2012 ratio was 2.73.
The majority of road kills occur at the end of the deer fences on US 1 at the curve in front of St. Peter Church and in front of the area where CVS and Walgreens are.
Another hot spot is the wooded area across from Strike Zone charters. The area on interior Big Pine with the worst deer kill record is Watson Blvd.
According to Refuge Manager Nancy Finley, the majority of kills are young bucks.
“That tells us that the young bucks are moving into new areas looking for a territory to call their own,” said Finley.
Finley said that the refuge isn’t really interested in getting into the legal issues surrounding a human development moratorium, “We would rather fix the problem.”
In a recent two-day span, three deer were killed by vehicle strikes.
The refuge has asked Monroe County to come up with some alternatives to what’s in place right now to protect the deer from vehicles. The majority of the remaining Key Deer herd is located on Big Pine and No Name Keys. There are smaller herds on Sugarloaf and Cudjoe Keys as a result of a translocation project several years ago, and recently deer have been spotted more often on the Torches and Ramrod than in years past.
That, says Monroe County Environmental Resources Coordinator Mike Roberts, actually shows that the size of the deer herd is increasing and the spike in vehicle collisions could be a result of that.
In published documents, the refuge states there are 750 deer in the core herds on Big Pine and No Name. Road counts seem to support a herd size that hasn’t changed significantly in the last eight to 10 years, but Roberts questions the methodology being used to count the herd.
“It’s obvious to us (county) that the census methodology needs to be refined so we get a better handle on the true number of deer,” said Roberts.
While the refuge hasn’t backed off its public assertion that the herd numbers around 750, herd managers do admit that the population of the endangered species is at or above carrying capacity for the islands.
That can happen for a couple of different reasons, says Finley.
“The deer have found an artificial food source to replace their normal forage that is artificially raising the carrying capacity of the islands,” she said.
The first of those is deer being fed by humans, and usually being fed food that doesn’t digest well for a deer.
“What humans consider treats for a deer isn’t usually on their natural diet,” said Finley. “But they’ll eat the food anyway.”
She also said that the deer are foraging more in trash cans than they have in the past.
“We still have some of the continuing issues with humans feeding the deer that we’ve had for years. Feeding deer may seem like the compassionate thing to do, but it only manifests in other issues,” said Finley.
She agreed that one of those issues could be increased road kills.
“The deer learn that humans are a good source of free handouts so they seek out humans, at home or in cars, and they equate that to free food. They stay close to the road waiting for a handout from a passing car and they get hit,” said Finley.
She also said that the refuge must work in cooperation with the county to get people to put up more effective trash can corrals so the deer can’t tip over a can and feast on the contents.
“We need to get the feeding issues resolved. This might be a case where we have to make examples of some folks who feed deer so we can embark on a ‘tough love’ scenario. We need to make the deer skittish around humans or seek easy food elsewhere,” said Finley.
Roberts said that the deer strike numbers actually have little correlation to human development over the last decade.
“Development has been flat and traffic counts to and through Big Pine have been flat, yet the deer kill numbers continue to rise,” said Roberts. “The data doesn’t bear out the premise that humans are totally responsible.”