The Monroe County Commission changed the design of a Lower Keys sewer project so that now 201 more homes will be served by gravity sewer collection systems.
However, the commission said "no" to 714 other property owners who wanted gravity instead of the lesser desired low-pressure systems.
The 201 gravity collection systems will add another $2.3 million to an already roughly $160 million Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, which will serve residents and businesses from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key. If the county was to place all 915 homes on gravity collection systems, the cost of the project would have increased by $17.5 million, county records show.
Only commissioners Danny Kolhage and Heather Carruthers supported having all 915 homes put on gravity collection systems.
County Mayor Sylvia Murphy and commissioners George Neugent and David Rice could not support that increase in cost, and also said it would not be fair to other communities in the Keys as the money is coming from state funding and sales tax revenue.
Kolhage, Carruthers and Rice did support adding the 201 homes to the list of properties served by gravity systems.
More than two dozen people attended Friday's meeting to show their support for adding more homes to gravity collection systems. They wore shirts that read "Dump the Pumps," referring to the grinder pumps that would be used in the low-pressure system.
The residents argued the installation of the grinder pumps would be an environmental disaster, saying the pumps will fail during tropical storms and hurricanes when the power goes out. The pumps require electricity to run, and without it, the grinder pumps will cease operation. Raw sewage will overflow into the environment, or back up into homes, critics claim.
The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, which has partnered with the county on the project, argued that it would have back-up generators placed at pumping stations after big storms to power the collection systems.
Residents also argued the installation of a gravity system may cost more up front, but the ongoing maintenance of the low-pressure system with grinder pumps will be more expensive over time.
Big Pine Key resident Tom Wilmers argued that he is hearing conflicting information about the effectiveness of the grinder pumps and low-pressure systems. He asked for a second opinion from an outside engineering firm.
"I don't know who to believe," Wilmers said. "I am worried about 10 years from now."
County and aqueduct authority staff members argued the system will survive a major storm and be effective.
However, aqueduct authority board members have said the agency would replace the grinders pumps and low-pressure system with more costly gravity sewage collection systems if the county provides more money.
The commission agreed Friday to seek a State Attorney's General Office opinion on whether it can regulate where and when people can discharge firearms in residential neighborhoods.
According to state Statute 790.15, it's legal for people to discharge guns in residential neighborhoods as long as it's not done in a "reckless" manner, or over a public road or occupied dwelling.
The Florida Legislature passed a law two years ago making it harder for local governments to regulate the discharging of guns. Local elected leaders and police officers can be fined $5,000, and removed from office, if they establish gun regulations.
Commissioners discussed the gun regulation issue after learning that Big Pine Key resident Doug Varrieur set up his own gun range at his home, and has been firing guns there every Wednesday for the past month.
Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay is also concerned about people discharging firearms in residential neighborhoods and would like to see some local regulation, he said.
The commission closed on a $5 million purchase of Rowell's Marina in Key Largo.
The commission approved the purchase of the 8-acre property in November, but the sale was contingent on a clean title and environmental report.
The county plans to apply for as much as $381,000 in funding from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC).
The park could generate $244,000 a year in revenue through a restaurant, kayak and small sailboat rentals, concessions and by hosting special events there, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.
Historically, there have been three special events held at Rowell's, generating $13,500 a year, he said.
The county could also generate money through renting out boat slips at the waterfront park. There is room for 25 boat slips, Gastesi said.