Calamity Jane visits No Name Key

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First, some housekeeping.

Despite my dogged efforts, I am unable to use a new email contacts list to send daily bombing runs to people by email. MSN/Hotmail’s “upgraded” Outlook Express doesn’t allow importation of the new contacts list, and I had no better luck with a Yahoo email account. So, I seem where I wanted to be all along, which is leaving it for people to spread the word about my websites, if they feel other people might wish to check out those sites. The most recent daily ravings come up right away at each site: goodmorningfloridakeys.com, goodmorningkeywest.com, goodmorningbirmingham.com
If there is more than one post on any given day, each post says that at the top and provides a link to the other post(s). Today there are three different posts, and you should be able to reach them buy clicking on these links at any time:
Calamity Jane visits No Name Key
Pearl Harbor lookout naval battles continue in Key West
Yes, the early humans were genetically altered by ancient astronauts, but don’t get sidetracked by that lore

I told the angels all along, it was my job to publish what they ran through my soul and body day and night, making me miserable in the process; and it was their job to spread it around, if they wanted it spread around. I’ve done everything I can to spread it around, and it didn’t end up amounting to much. That tells me, either it wasn’t worth being spread around, or the angels continued their longstanding practice of holding to a trickle how much of what they gave me to write ended up being seen by other people.

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Meanwhile, my thoughts on what follows are in italics

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In The Key West Citizen today,

Island divided: power v. no power

May be light at the end of the tunnel, as county holds special meeting

Tuesday BY TIMOTHY O’HARA

Citizen Staff

tohara@keysnews.com

Both opponents and proponents of bringing commercial power to No Name Key have fought an unwavering battle for decades. The strife has played out in courtrooms, community forums and local government meetings. It has fractured the small community of 43 homes so much that residents have likened it to the Hatfields and McCoys. The neighborhood dispute is not just a local issue. It’s garnered national attention, and was featured in both The New York Times and the Washington Post. Each side will argue its case again regarding bringing commercial electricity to the rural island Tuesday at a special meeting scheduled by the Monroe County Commission.

Settling without power

While the first people to settle on No Name Key date back to the 1870s, the requests to bring power there started in 1969, when Bob and Ruth Eaken purchased a home there. They were told by then-City Electric (now Keys Energy Services) that commercial power would be brought there after more homes were built, family members have said. Herb and Lois Craig moved there in 1978 and also requested commercial power. They were also told that power would eventually come along with more homes, according to records kept by the No Name Key Property Owners Association. In 1984, the Eakens again, along with neighbor Wayne Carr, requested power, but were turned down, told that there still were not enough homes there to warrant bringing in power lines and other infrastructure, according to the Property Owners Association. The battle over bringing power to the small island began to heat up and divide the community in the 1990s, when a rift grew between some who wanted to make No Name Key a true solar community and those who thought they were patiently, or not so patiently, waiting to be connected to the grid, according to government records and published newspaper reports. The differing views on power would put families such as the Eakens at odds with their new neighbors — Alicia and the late Mick Putney — who built a state-of-the art solar home on No Name Key and moved there in 1992. The Putneys championed the local solar energy cause and were among the founders of No Name Key’s “Solar Community.” At the same time, No Name Key resident Aldona Sizcek and others were working in the other direction, still trying to get City Electric and the county to bring power to the island. Sizcek had a warranty deed that included easements “for purpose of ingress and egress and for utility lines and for water pipelines,” records show, and in December 1994, she contacted City Electric in hopes of starting the electrification process. Cost estimates for line extension were prepared, as the county began considering it. But in August 1996, the County Commission sent a letter of “non-support” to City Electric, effectively shutting down the project, according to published accounts and public records. City Electric abandoned all efforts to supply No Name Key with electricity.

Looking powerless

The news for those wanting power got worse in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as they lost in court and the county put even more restrictions on bringing power to No Name Key. In 1996, the county adopted a comprehensive land use plan that said utilities were “discouraged” on what is known as federal Coastal Barrier Resource Zones, which are on No Name Key and in other areas of the Florida Keys. Development in such coastal barrier zones is severely limited as property owners in the designated zones can’t obtain federal flood insurance, needed to get a mortgage. In 2001, the county took it one step further and adopted a land development regulation that “prohibited” utilities in No Name Key. The latter would become one of the most controversial aspects of the electrification battle. While the County Commission ultimately approved the adoption of the rule, the legislation first went before the county’s Planning Commission. Alicia Putney had just been appointed to the Planning Commission. It was her very first meeting when that panel considered and then approved — unanimously — the then-proposed land development rule prohibiting utilities. The measure then went to the County Commission for approval.

If that was Alicia’s first meeting, what was on the agenda that day was the product of considerable work by Planning Commission staff, most likely with input from the County Commission and the Florida Department of Community Affairs and, I imagine, US Fish & Wildlife and Florida Fish & Wildlife. To blame Alica for what was on the agenda at her first meeting, as if she was its sole creator, is ludicrous.

Members of the No Name Key Property Owners Association have accused her using her position on the board to get the legislation passed. They maintain she sent several letters to the county and City Electric arguing against commercial power on No Name Key and was a party to lawsuits involving the issue.

Whatever Alicia sent, or didn’t send, to City Electric, whatever City Electric ended up deciding, was done by its Board of Directors, with input from its staff and CEO. City Electric was a wholly-owned Key West utility company, the forerunner of Keys Energy Services, allegedly an independent utlility company with an elected board of directors, although they all have to live in Key West to run for that board. There is no way Alicia controlled City Electric, just as there is now way she controlled Keys Energy Service, whose elected Board of Directors, against their own lawyer’s advice, I was at the meeting, voted to extend power to No Name Key, even though the issue was still tied up in litigation.

Putney told The Citizen that she did ask the then-Planning Commission attorney if she needed to recuse herself from the vote, and he said no, because the set of land-use rules was “legislative” and she did not have a “financial interest” in the matter.

This is as dumb a thing as I can imagine. There is no way Alicia, living on No Name Key, opposing public utilities being run out there, did not have a conflict of interest. Regardless of what Alicia was told by County legal counsel, or by whomever, she should not have participated in anything before the Planning Commission regarding No Name Key. I bet today Alicia wishes she had recused herself from No Name Key agenda items, even though it apparently was a done deal, no matter if she voted or not, as the other four planning commissioners apparently voted for legislation against extending utilities to No Name Key, and the County Commission and the Florida Department of Community Affairs approved it. There is no way Alica controlled the County Commission or the Department of Community Affairs, either.

Putney denied any role in crafting the legislation, arguing that it was proposed by county planning staff and first went before the county’s Development Review Committee a month before she was named to the Planning Commission. “People have long misinterpreted my role in this matter,” Putney said. In 2003, Judge Richard Payne ruled against a group called Taxpayers for the Electrification of No Name Key Inc., which sued the county to bring commercial power to No Name Key.

Game-changer

The likelihood of commercial power being brought to No Name Key seemed dim until 2010, when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a letter essentially giving the green light to bringing it there. The agency oversees the National Key Deer Refuge on No Name Key and Big Pine Key and is responsible for protecting all the endangered species on the two islands.

Yes, that indeed was a game-changer. And, that it was a game-changer indicated the power U.S. Fish & Wildlife had wielded earlier, in No Name Key not having public utilities. One has to wonder who got to USF&W? It doesn’t look to me like it was Alicia Putney. It looks to me like it was people who wanted No Name Key put on the grid. Or, somebody they knew, who had political influence.

The federal agency sent Keys Energy Services a letter on Oct. 15, 2010, stating that power lines and their installation were “not likely to adversely affect Key deer, Lower Keys marsh rabbits, silver rice rats and other protected species,” if the project followed some basic protocols designed to protect the animals. “It was a major game-changer,” said County Commissioner Danny Kolhage, who is among several commissioners asking for a review, and possibly amendments, to county land development policies regarding utilities on No Name Key. Proponents of power also uncovered a 1951 County Commission resolution that supported power being brought to the island. The resolution grants utility companies the right to “construct and maintain an electrical system on and over any of the (county’s) public streets, roads or bridges.”

That Resolution, and No Name Key, now will be argued by anyone living in remote areas in the Keys, to get public utilities.

Despite the Fish & Wildlife letter and the 1951 resolution, the county still refused to approve the electrification of No Name Key.

Litigation begins

In March 2011, the county filed a “friendly” lawsuit against Keys Energy Services seeking a “declaratory statement” on the issue. The utility had tentively agreed with the county to allow a local judge to rule on the question.

Not entirely. This lawsuit was filed in response to  litigation threats from No Name Key property owners who wanted public utilities brought out to the island. I told the County Commission, at a Commission meeting, not to file the declaratory judgment action, for which every taxpayer in the county would pay. I told the Commission to leave it up to the No Name Key property owners to bring suit, on their dime, and if that happened, to then ask the Court for declaratory relief; meaning, tell the court the County didn’t know what was right, and for the Court to decide it. Later, Keys Energy’s Board voted to bring its own declaratory judgment action, if the County Commission did not bring one of its own. There was no reason for the County Commission to do anything but wait, and then, if sued, ask the Court for declaratory relief.

However, Circuit Court Judge David Audlin ruled that the power issue should go before the state Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates utilities. But before the PSC could even consider the issue — which it still has not — Keys Energy Services entered into a contract with the No Name Key Property Owners Association to provide the infrastructure for commercial power. In summer 2012, Keys Energy Services completed erecting power poles and other power equipment on the rural island, which led the county to file another lawsuit — not so friendly — charging Keys Energy Services with trespass, as some of the lines run over county conservation land. Audlin ruled on the second lawsuit last week, again saying the PSC had jurisdiction. The commission has yet to set a hearing date on the matter. Several members of the No Name Key Property Owners Association have since filed their own lawsuit, because the county will not grant them the building permits needed to connect their homes to the power lines. They are also asking for $10 million in damages. County Commissioner David Rice has encouraged the County Commission to vote on issuing the building permits, noting the discrepancy between the county’s comprehensive land-use plan (discouraging utilities) and its land development regulations (prohibiting them) on No Name Key. Florida Statute 163.3194 states that when the comp plan and land development regulations are in conflict, the county must abide by the comp plan, Rice said. Rice, Kolhage and County Mayor George Neugent argued that the county has “discouraged” bringing power there for several decades, thereby fulfilling its duty in that regard.

Wrong, George. As long as the Comp Plan says discourage, you have to discourage. If you don’t like the Comp Plan, get it changed.

Supporters of power are closer then ever in their quest for commercial power. They may be even closer after this week’s special County Commission meeting in Marathon. The commission will meet to discuss the issue at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Marathon Government Center.

tohara@keysnews.com

I continue to be amazed by the utter lack of mention in local newspaper coverage of this situation, that all property owners living on No Name Key bought homes out there knowing the island was totally off the grid, and all but four property owners bought out there knowing the obstacles to bringing the island on to the grid.

I also continue to be amazed by the utter lack of mention in local newspaper coverage of this situation, that anyone who has lived very long in the Keys, who pays attention to what goes on here, knows that putting No Name Key on the grid will open the door to lobbying for more development out there, as well as elsewhere in the Keys, where development does not occur because there are as yet no public utilities

Probably not by chance, Brad and Beth Vickrey (Beth is the sister of Monroe County/Florida Keys Sheriff Rick Ramsay and the daughter of Marathon City Councilman Dick Ramsay) were not interviewed for this article. There is no way Brad Vickrey, a California real estate man, bought a home off the grid, unless he intended to use that home to give him standing to get public utilities brought to No Name Key, so he could try to develop more of it. Brad would have been an idiot to have bought out there for any other reason, and my dealings with Brad left me convinced he is not an idiot.

It has been my impression all along that Brad and Beth Vickrey, and people they know, are the developers behind the drive to put No Name Key onto the grid. And it has been my impression all along that they have David Rice and George Neugent in their fold. On David, his son, Mike, is #3 in the Sheriff Office, under Beth’s brother, Rick Ramsay. For years, Mike was #3 under Rick, who was #2 in the Sheriff Office. As Undersheriff, Rick pretty much ran the Sheriff Office, according to what I heard him say at several candidate forums last year. I also saw Rick show up at Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority meetings, in uniform, when extending public water out to No Name Key was on the agenda. And also I saw Rick and Beth’s father, Dick, show up at those meetings. There is no doubt in my mind this really is about further development on No Name Key down the road, even though I don’t believe that is the intent of most people living there, who want the island brought onto the grid.

For readers who do not know, I ran for the County Commission three times, the first time in 2006, against George Neugent. I ran for a Key West county commission seat in 2008, after the angels moved me back down there in 2007. I ran against George again in 2010, after the angels moved me back to Little Torture Key. I went to alot of candidate forums with both George and David. I attended quite a few county commission meetings. I attended Keys Energy Services and Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority meetings. I am not a new kid on the block when it comes to George and David, and to No Name Key.

 

Sloan Bashinsky

keysmyhome@hotmail.com

 

 

About Sloan

That's what this website is about, also goodmorningkeywest.com and goodmorningbirmingham.com. If you can't get a publisher to take on your wacky musing, you do it yourself.
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