A pro-power homeowner group on No Name Key has filed its countersuit against Monroe County, claiming the county has "exceeded its lawful authority by refusing to issue building permits" to connect the homes to power lines erected last month by Keys Energy Services.
The lawsuit comes after the county sued Keys Energy Services over providing commercial power to No Name Key. This is the second time Circuit Judge David Audlin has been asked to rule on whether bringing commercial electricity to No Name Key violates the county's comprehensive land use plan, which "discourages" utilities from being brought to the barrier island. Utilities are discouraged as a way to prohibit new homes from being placed there.
Earlier this year, Audlin ruled that the state's Public Service Commission (PSC), not himself, had jurisdiction in the matter. Before the PSC could rule, Keys Energy Services started erecting poles and doing other work. The PSC agreed to hear the issue, but has not scheduled a hearing date to listen to arguments in the case. A hearing date is scheduled to be set within the next several weeks, PSC spokeswoman Cindy Muir said.
The county has filed a second lawsuit asking Audlin to hear the case. As part of that lawsuit, the No Name Key Homeowner's Association filed a counter lawsuit last week, asking Audlin to rule on bringing power to No Name Key and ordering the county to grant the building permits needed to connect the homes to the power lines. Several residents have requested the building permits, but the county has refused to issue them until Audlin or the Public Service Commission rules.
"Monroe County exceeded its lawful authority by refusing to issue building permits based on its comprehensive plan and land development regulations," the association's lawsuit states. "As the planning director, Townsley Schwab, exceeded his lawful authority by refusing to issue building permits based on the Monroe County Comprehensive plan and land development regulations .... While the county may prohibit the construction of new homes on No Name Key, the county does not have jurisdiction to determine whether the home should be denied electricity, water or telephone services."
In its lawsuit, the association submitted various state and local laws and agreements with Keys Energy Services that show the public utility does have the right to bring commercial power to No Name Key. The association claims that state law prohibits the county from passing legislation that keeps public utilities out of certain communities.
Adding to the association's case, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled in 2010 that endangered species, such as Key deer, would not be affected if the power project was done correctly. That seemed to be the turning point in the quest to bring commercial power to the island that is currently powered by the sun and generators.
The utility has installed 61 utility poles, each 40 feet tall, on the island. Keys Energy Services, which provides electrical power from Key West to the Seven Mile Bridge, contracted with former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Phil Frank to ensure endangered species and their habitat would not be harmed during construction, Keys Energy spokesman Julio Barroso.
The project has divided the small community of 42 homes. Those who want commercial power argue that it will not impact endangered species or encourage development. Opponents contend that it will encourage development and that the island should stay as-is to serve as a model community for the use of sustainable forms of energy.