County eases requirement for unaninmous buy-in from residents where canal cleanups are planned

kwadlow@keynoter.comApril 19, 2014 

A pilot program for canal restoration projects at seven canal systems Keyswide can proceed with less-than-complete support from area residents, Monroe County commissioners decided Wednesday.

When planning the $5 million program to test various systems on how well they restore canal water quality, the county originally said affected property owners would have to unanimously agree to support the operation and maintenance of the systems after a two-year test period.

"The proposal to get 100 percent approval to move forward, that ain't going to happen," Commissioner George Neugent said at the board's Key West meeting.  "I've heard from residents who say we can't allow one person to step up and stop this project."

County project manager Rhonda Haag and consultant Wendy Blondin said most residents ardently support the projects, but a handful of owners in top-ranked study areas do not want to participate. Others simply cannot be found or have not responded.

"If I were one of property owners, I would want to know how you are going to make me pay" for operation and maintenance, Commissioner Danny Kolhage said. "Right now, you don't have an answer."

Comments indicated the county likely would pursue special taxing districts, already in use for road maintenance and security in some areas, for the canal system's operational costs.

Commissioners agreed planning could proceed for specific systems once 75 percent of the affected owners agree.

In other issues Wednesday:

-- Commissioners rejected a new contract with Teamsters Local 769, representing about 125 "blue collar" county employees, mostly mechanics.

Commissioners unanimously agreed with the county's negotiators that they would not approve guaranteed cost-of-living increases to the union members in future years without knowing if other county employees would receive them.

-- At Kolhage's request, commissioners told staff to see if the county-owned Hickory House property on Stock Island could accommodate a public boat ramp.

Concern about mangroves and other environmental issues stalled earlier plans to make the site a park. State environmental officials recently indicated that a public project might be possible, staff said. But commissioners voiced concerns about crowds and crime that a ramp could attract to the area.

The county has an open request-for-proposals to see if anyone is willing to buy the one-acre site near the Oceanside Marina.

-- Approved a $30,000 grant to Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe to help fund a study that might prove stringent Keys building standards should result in lower wind-insurance costs.

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