A meeting late last week between the state Department of Environmental Protection and a local grassroots group fighting against the installation of low-pressure grinder pumps convinced the organization not to pursue legal action right now.
Dump the Pumps has been fighting against the installation of grinder pumps in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System service area for months now, and was prepared to file legal action against the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and DEP last week before the state agency agreed to a meeting to listen first hand to the group’s concerns.
Through legal action, Dump the Pumps had hoped to convince DEP to halt any further installation of grinder pumps or lines servicing them until the state agency had fully reviewed the allegations against the issuance of the permits to FKAA.
How mosquitoes get killed on Big Pine and No Name Keys could change in the very near future.
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District hasn’t been able to spray insecticide designed to kill adult mosquitoes on the two islands for more than eight months because of fears that the fogger used by the district will also kill a couple of endangered butterflies that call the islands home.
The district had been on a yearly special use permit from the National Key Deer Refuge with little drama during renewals, but with the listing of the Bartram’s scrub hairstreak and Florida Leafwing butterflies as endangered species, the refuge didn’t renew the permit in June last year.
That forced both sides to come to the table to work on a long-range plan to address the deaths of nuisance mosquitoes on federal lands.
Earlier this week, the refuge released its environmental assessment of the adult mosquito killing plan put forth by the district. And that plan calls for a series of methods to be used to knock off the pesky insects.
But the plan also decreases the area that can be treated with large-scale fogging by the district and changes the parameters under which even tightly-controlled spraying can be conducted.
State DEP/Dump the Pumps stage meeting over battle
A Lower Keys group that is staunchly opposed to the use of low-pressure grinder pumps has agreed that it is time to move into the minor civil disobedience phase of their battle as they concurrently prepare for a legal battle over the issue.
There are approximately 1,300 properties remaining in the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System that are slated to be served by grinder pumps on private property that hook into the central collection system at the street.
Controversy over an active back yard shooting range in Eden Pines on Big Pine Key continues to heat up following an affirmation from the State Attorney General that local officials are powerless to affect the activity.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners, concerned that the practice could become more widespread than just the single active range at the home of Doug Varrier in Eden Pines, had asked County Attorney Bob Shillinger to seek an Attorney General’s opinion to clarify if there is indeed nothing that can be done locally to at least regulate home-made shooting ranges.
In answer to that, State Attorney General Pam Bondi responded with a 2011 AG opinion that stipulated exactly what commissioners had been told from the outset…their hands are tied. And not only are they tied, they are handcuffed in that any attempt to regulate private gun ranges could get them removed from office as well as possible civil or criminal penalties.
“The (AG) opinion came back like I predicted it would,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay.
He said he had predicted after reading the current law on the books, as well as various Legislative updates since its passage in 1998, that neither his office nor the county commission would be able to do anything to “curb, stop or regulate,” private property gun ranges.
“But as we have always had, there is a concern for public safety in this issue,” said Ramsay.
The US House of Representatives was slated to vote Thursday on legislative changes to the Biggert-Waters Act that would reportedly ease the near-disastrous premium hikes being faced by Monroe County property owners.
Biggert-Waters was passed into law in 2012 supposedly to render the National Flood Insurance Program solvent again after monstrous hits from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey left the program more than $17 billion in debt.
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.