In an ongoing tug-of-war among property owners, civic activists, county government and an electric utility over extending power to a sparsely populated island in a national wildlife refuge, county building officials have chalked up a regulatory blooper.
On Tuesday, Monroe County revoked a building permit it mistakenly issued to a No Name Key homeowner that would have allowed him to connect his home to commercial power lines, a connection county officials contend is contrary to the county's land-use plan. The faux pas, says a county attorney, was an "administrative oversight."
The county petitioned the court in May for an emergency order to halt the extension of power lines to No Name Key, an island in the National Key Deer Refuge, until the issue of energizing the island was resolved either by the courts or the state Public Service Commission. That order was denied, and contractors working for Keys Energy Services are installing power poles this week.
County Growth Management officials and county attorneys also are considering a stop-work order to halt the utility project.
No Name Key resident Jim Newton applied in April for a building permit to string power lines from his home to a utility pole -- when and if the utility poles were installed. County building official Jerry Smith granted the requested permit.
Newton, clearly pleased about receiving the permit, told his neighbors.
The news eventually spread to a neighbor opposed to extending commercial electricity to the island, which is now powered by solar panels and generators.
That neighbor contacted the county's Growth Management Division, which oversees the Building Department, said Assistant County Attorney Derek Howard.
Growth Management revoked the permit Tuesday, saying it was "issued in error due to the fact the permit was not reviewed by the Department of Planning and Environmental Resources for consistency with the adopted comprehensive plan and the land development regulations," Smith wrote in a letter to Newton. Howard said issuance of the permit was an "administrative oversight."
Smith's letter cites the county's comprehensive plan, and the fact that No Name Key is in a Federal Coastal Barrier Resources Act area where development is discouraged. He also notes the outstanding legal case, which is expected to set a county precedent.
Newton is the first No Name Key property owner to apply for a permit to connect to the grid, Howard said.
But Newton can -- and will -- appeal will the revocation, he said Wednesday. Such permits, he said, are routine.
"I find it astounding that we have to go through this," he said. "It feels like discrimination. They have singled out No Name Key. There are other areas of the state and the Keys ... in Coastal Barrier Resource areas."
August completion date
A Keys Energy Services contractor began erecting the poles and doing other work Monday afternoon. Nine had been installed as of Tuesday.
The utility expects the project to be completed sometime in August, said spokesman Julio Barroso.
The Public Service Commission is expected to rule June 19 on whether to dismiss the case and allow Keys Energy Services to proceed.
Judge David Audlin is scheduled to rule Aug. 29 on whether extending power to the island is a violation of the county's land-use plan.