July 28, 2008

Dogs, Cats Get Two More Years on Big Pine

By Alyson Crean, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Jul. 28--Big Pine Key residents will have their own animal shelter, at least for a couple more years, after all. Keys Energy Services, the Lower Keys electric utility, owns the land on which the shelter sits, on Industrial Road. Monroe County leases it for the shelter.

Last week, the County Commission voted unanimously to renew the lease, under which the county would pay the utility $1 a year each of the next two years. The Utility Board of Key West, which sets Keys Energy policy, meets at 5 p.m. today and seems willing to go along.

"The public input we've received made it clear that people want that service there," Keys Energy spokesman Julio Barroso says. "As a service to the community, we would not think of knocking that structure down."

The shelter is operated for the county under a contract with the private Stand Up for Animals group. As of Tuesday, 35 cats and three dogs were being housed.

The county faced eviction from the shelter when its 20-year lease expires in August.

Keys Energy owns the land, but the county paid to build the 624-square-foot shelter but agreed to relinquish ownership when the 1988 lease expires.

In April, then-Acting County Administrator Debbie Frederick sent a letter to the utility saying the county wouldn't extend the lease, essentially handing the building over to Keys Energy.

That's when community members asked the county to find a way to maintain a full-service shelter on the island. Stand Up for Animals offered to maintain an emergency drop-off on Big Pine and continue to run services from the Marathon shelter, which it also operates.

Though the lease is a bit of a reprieve, it still leaves Stand Up for Animals looking for a permanent building down the road. But County Community Services Director Deb Barsell says it allows the county to live up to its contract with Stand Up for Animals, avoiding potential legal problems. That contract expires in 2010.

The shelter sits on a little more than two acres of Key Energy land, and Barroso says the utility has some exciting plans for the adjacent land, "We're working with the Florida Municipal Power Agency for a solar array on that property," he said. Though the array, or farm, wouldn't be large enough to create a huge amount of energy, Barroso says it would be beneficial. "It will also be a nice education center to show how solar energy works," he said.


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