BIG PINE KEY -- Residents in the Lower Keys can expect groundbreaking of the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System as early as spring, according to county officials,
The multimillion-dollar project has been the focus of the county, which in November, through a referendum, passed a one-cent sales tax extension to help bankroll the sewer system.
Leading up the election, county officials told residents that not passing the extension could prevent construction of the project or force connection costs to rise. The Florida Keys are under an unfunded state mandate to be connected to advanced sewage treatment systems by December 2015.
That's what the county is shooting for, said County Commissioner George Neugent.
"We're hoping it's done by then," he said.
Other than the focus of the county commission, the Cudjoe project has also been closely followed by the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce.
Executive Director Carole Stevens said the chamber is supporting local businesses through the economic impact of connecting to the sewer system.
In a two-page letter, Stevens wrote that the costs of the connection could lead to the demise of many locally owned businesses. Stevens said she has written many letters to county officials about the issue and attends all local meetings.
On a positive note for the chamber, Stevens said the new year means she has been organizing the Big Pine Nautical Flea Market, set for Jan. 19 and 20.
The ninth annual maritime showcase will be on the grounds of the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, mile marker 31, oceanside. Dive and snorkel gear, boats and motors, fishing tackle and marine merchandise of all sorts will available for sale.
Among the other issues facing residents in 2013 is the continuing saga over providing electrical power to No Name Key, Neugent said.
"We were dealing with this when I became a commissioner 14 years ago," Nuegent said.
No Name Key has seen a long legal battle over whether a small community of residents can connect to electrical power, or whether county land-use laws trump such efforts. Keys Energy Services last year installed utility poles on No Name Key, but the homes have not been connected. Lawsuits and counter suits have been filed to resolve the matter, but so far it remains in legal limbo.
Neugent, however, expects the dust to settle before the year is out, but he could not say whether that means the residents are going to get power or not.
Meanwhile, Neugent is encouraged by upcoming development projects on Rockland Key, Stock Island and Little Torch Key.
"This appears to be in some degree evidence of an improving economy," he said. "I think these are harbingers of good things to come."
Another development Big Pine Key residents will see in 2013 is the extension of the Overseas Heritage Trail through the Lower Keys.
"This is a real enhancement for the community," Neugent said.