Power suit: Monroe County sued by Keys residents for $10 million over no electricity to island

 

KeysNet.com

Four No Name Key residents filed a $10 million discrimination lawsuit against Monroe County Thursday in Circuit Court.

Jim and Ruth Newton, along with Robert and Julianne Reynolds, allege the county has for years willfully denied the Lower Keys island commercial power without proper cause. Currently homes there are powered by solar and generators.

"The county has a long history of discrimination against that island and the residents and its very flagrant. And if it's not discrimination, it's ignorance," Reynolds said Friday.

The crux of the plaintiffs' argument is Chief Circuit Court Judge David Audlin's ruling in 2011 that the state Public Service Commission has jurisdiction over the matter, not the county.

That ruling came about from a county filing asking Audlin to decide whether county law allows commercial electricity on No Name. County officials say the law doesn't allow it and that it can't issue permits for it.

The suit concentrates on Monroe County fighting the installation of 62 Keys Energy Services power poles last year, as well as a 2001 county ordinance creating a coastal barrier overlay district prohibiting commercial utilities in federal coastal barrier areas.

Congress created the Coastal Barrier Resource System in 1982, and updated it in 1990, to protect undeveloped coastal barrier areas.

The lawsuit also addresses the Newtons' controversial application last year for an electrical building permit from the county. Originally granted, it was revoked when county officials realized their home is on No Name.

In addition to the $10 million in damages -- which Reynolds called a "low" number-- the plaintiffs want Audlin to void the county's coastal barrier overlay district law and grant homeowners electrical permits.

"If you knew what this has done to the friendships and relationships there ... it's pretty much the only thing they think about and talk about. I don't know what the value of my peace of mind is, but in my mind it's pretty significant," Reynolds said.

He's owned a house on No Name since 2005.

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