Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, March 2, 2013
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Parties discuss power issue
Who's the boss, PSC or county?

Public Service Commission representatives and attorneys representing different factions of the No Name Key power issue talked together for the first time Friday, but it was still unclear whether the county is subordinate to the PSC on the matter.

Throughout the phone conference, Keys Energy Services attorney Nathan Eden kept asking: Would the county have to follow the PSC's decision if the state agency required it to connect the rural island's homes to power lines?

"If the county doesn't (have to), we are just blowing in the wind," Eden said.

In general, local governments do have to abide by PSC rulings, but Monroe County is an Area of Critical State Concern and has strict regulations on development that do include limitations on where utilities can be run.

The designation also means the state Department of Economic Opportunity oversees development here. The agency -- under its previous name, the Department of Community Affairs -- approved the county's comp plan that "discourages" utilities on No Name Key and land development regulations that "prohibit" utilities there.

A ruling bringing power to No Name Key could put the Department of Economic Opportunity and PSC at odds with each other, attorneys have said.

Attorney Bart Smith, who represents a pro-power faction on No Name Key, contended the county does have to comply with a PSC ruling.

"The PSC order is an administrative body that carries the force of law," Smith said. "The next step in the process would be the state Supreme Court."

If the county refused to comply with the PSC order, a party to the lawsuit could file a "writ of mandamus" with the local court system, ordering the county to comply.

The PSC held the conference call Friday with attorneys representing Monroe County, Keys Energy Services and No Name Key homeowners. The goal was to discuss the best way to move forward with the PSC case and to determine whether Keys Energy Service can bring commercial power to No Name Key. The county's land development regulations may prohibit it, but "territorial agreements" Keys Energy Services has with PSC call for the utility to provide power in all the Lower Keys.

The purpose of the phone meeting was to determine "what the issues are and how to move forward with the process," said Martha Brown, PSC general counsel.

She speculated the case will go before the PSC in July.

The meeting comes less than a week after the County Commission voted against issuing building permits needed for No Name Key residents to connect to a series of power lines Keys Energy Services installed there last summer.

tohara@keysnews.com

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