What the commercial fishing industry is calling “the worst” stone crab season in recent memory ended Wednesday just as badly as it started.
“The first catches of the season were bad. Then they got worse,” said Bob Holloway, owner of Fanci Seafood on Cudjoe Key.
The Florida Public Service Commission Tuesday ruled just as has been predicted for several months, ruling it had the jurisdiction over the electrification of No Name Key, but admitting it can’t issue building permits to the residents to hook into the energized power poles.
The commission voted 5-0 to exercise its authority to determine its own jurisdiction in the issue, which is whether the 43 homes on No Name Key can be hooked up to the commercial power grid.
PSC, BOCC clear way for power to No Name
County says no more fight
It could be lights on using power supplied by Keys Energy Services for at least 22 homeowners on No Name Key in the very near future, like two or three weeks.
The Monroe Board of County Commissioners Wednesday agreed to give up on any further appeals of a state Public Service Commission ruling Tuesday that the folks on No Name Key should be allowed to hook into the commercial power grid.
The BOCC also agreed that it would not defend any action taken by the pro-power contingent on No Name Key should they file court action seeking an immediate issuance of building permits to hook into the energized power grid that has been sitting idle on the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key since August of last year.
According to County Attorney Bob Shillinger, the PSC ruled that it did have the jurisdiction to force Keys Energy to supply the power, but did not have the jurisdiction to force Monroe County to issue the building permits.
That lack, however, said Shillinger, might be a moot point should the pro-power contingent re-file a writ of mandamus action in the local circuit court.
“That writ was dismissed without prejudice by Judge (David) Audlin earlier, but it was clear he was waiting on the ruling from the PSC,” said Shillinger.
Shillinger said the county had options to choose from. It could appeal the PSC ruling to the Florida Supreme Court, but that the county’s hired counsel wasn’t “optimistic” that the result wold be favorable. The BOCC could ask for an administrative hearing in front of the full PSC where the merits of the case could be argued, or it could do nothing and let the decision stand as a final order.
The BOCC chose the latter on a split 3-2 vote.
Monroe County has secured financing for the initial stages of the construction of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System that could save county taxpayers as much as $20 million over the life of the loan, it was announced last Thursday.
The most immediate savings, says County Administrator Roman Gastesi, is for the property owners who elected to amortize hook up fees for 20 years rather than pay the full amount up front.
The state Public Service Commission meets Tuesday in an effort to declare its jurisdiction in the potential electrification of No Name Key.
The commission staff last week issued its report on the long-running issue, claiming that the state agency has the jurisdiction to force Keys Energy to supply commercial power to the remote island off the northeast shore of Big Pine Key.
And the report suggested that the full commission claim that jurisdiction Tuesday. Whether Keys Energy had the authority to run a commercial power grid to No Name Key using public lands and public rights-of-way has never been a bone of contention between the utility and Monroe County. Both sides agree that the utility has the authority from the state to establish a power grid on public lands and with privately granted easements.
What has been the stumbling block in recent months, as well as in the recent decade of the two-plus-decade-old battle to electrify the island, is a county ordinance that prohibits the extension of public utilities to or through areas designated as federal Coastal Barrier Resources System lands.
That ordinance was put into place about a decade ago after the courts ruled against another group trying to electrify No Name Key that the group had no statutory or Constitutional right to commercial power. The hope, expressed by then Growth Management Director Tim McGarry when he presented the ordinance written by county planning staff, was that the language would put the battle to rest once and for all.
It worked for 10 years until a new group of homeowners, many of whom are transplants from other areas, brought the battle to the forefront again.
Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority officials will host two informational meetings in the coming two weeks to disseminate information about the future progress of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System.
As the final touches are put in place for the financing plan for the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater system, relief may be in sight for Deer Run Bed and Breakfast, a small lodging establishment on Long Beach Road in Big Pine Key.
The establishment’s owners, Harry Appel and Jennifer DeMaria, have been trying for more than a year to put an addition on the facility for their own private living quarters. They qualified for the building permit in all aspects, but were held up by the Department of Health which required a larger wastewater system than the facility currently has.
So the two spent the needed money to design a “state-of-the-art” on-site wastewater treatment system to meet current codes, said Appel.
Monroe County planning staff, based on a report received this week from land use consultant Keith and Schnarrs, plans to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners next Wednesday that a long-standing prohibition against public utilities in a Coastal Barrier Resource System area be removed from the county’s land development regulations.
The recommendation follows a request by the BOCC to have the consultant study the potential ramifications of changing the LDRs and the effect on growth in environmentally sensitive areas.
The commission asked if the county’s current Tier System of land classification provided enough protection for CBRS areas or if the overlay that was added more than a decade ago needed to remain.
The conclusion by the consultant is that the Tier System classifications provide nearly the same level of protection and the utility prohibition can be removed.
That recommendation directly affects efforts by residents on No Name Key to hook their homes up to commercial power.
That battle has been ongoing for more than two decades as each new wave of residents took a stab at getting commercial power to the island, rebuffed always by the BOCC or the courts.
Until this time.
The federal funding cuts that were allowed to take place earlier this year won’t have a seriously detrimental effect on Monroe County’s budget picture prior to the new fiscal year, but next year is an uncertain premise.
After lying fallow for nearly six years, a new redevelopment plan for the old Lucky’s Landing mobile home park on Little Torch Key has arisen.
A group calling itself Little Pam Cottages LLC has applied for a conditional use permit on the five-acre tract to allow the development of 24 duplex units, along with a new swimming pool and renovated docking facilities.