County, FWC listen to boaters’ concerns
Last year, Monroe County removed 103 vessels from Florida Keys waters to the tune of $273,570 of taxpayer money.
It was the most expensive year for vessel removal, outside of a hurricane event, the county had ever experienced, noted Marine Resources Administrator Rich Jones.
That figure hit Marathon resident Marti Brown Wednesday night when this former cruiser turned “dirt-dweller.” She spoke at the Marathon Government Center during a stakeholder’s meeting seeking input for potential regulations to clean up abandoned and derelict boats that threaten the fragile Florida Keys waters.
“That is a lot of money and wasted tax dollars, and I understand that now,” Brown addressed the packed room.
She cautioned local policy makers, including members of the county’s Marina and Ports Advisory Council (MPAC), against jeopardizing the revenue stream generated by both the seasonal cruisers and year-round liveaboard residents.
“As a nurse, I make significantly less down here than I would in Georgia, for example,” she continued. “What about a sliding fee scale with anchoring and mooring fees to support affordable housing?”
She also asked for clarification on what qualifies a boat as derelict and noted that many who choose to live on a boat are challenged with alcoholism and mental illness.
“I’ve seen patients on psychotropic drugs who tried to hock a bilge pump for money to buy alcohol,” Brown pointed out. She also noted that after trying to sell her boat in recent months, she had several inquiries from the Key West area that sought her vessel strictly for housing.
FWC Lt. David Dipre agreed the drug and alcohol addiction often inhibit people’s ability to properly maintain their boats.
“It’s a matter of feeding a habit as opposed to putting money into a boat,” Dipre noted. “Sometimes you’re living hand to mouth trying to maintain a vessel, but a bad habit often cuts into that budget. We’re not interested in prosecuting as much as we are in simply cleaning up the (derelict) boats and making them go away.”
Dipre also noted that current state statutes say proper notice for inhabitants and boat owners of derelict boats requires only five days, “but we often give weeks or months.”
The challenge of cleaning up the bay bottom in the Boca Chica Basin is one of primary concerns and the impetus for its participation in the state’s pilot program. Monroe County, Marathon and Key West are considered by FWC as one entity under the pilot program. Any ordinance that would be developed based on public input would have to be approved by FWC before a local ordinance is adopted.
“This is not about impeding anyone’s right to anchor in free areas that will likely always exist in the Keys,” Jones stated. “It is about cleaning up un-permitted boats and providing pump out services.”
Jones reported that in March 2010, 90 percent of vessels in that area were moored to some type of debris, including concrete, engine blocks and even sunken vessels.
But at the second in a series of three public meetings held in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West, liveaboards in Boot Key Harbor cried afoul of being mandated to anchor on a mooring ball.
Michael Wagner said his fixed income and his wife’s per diem hours at Fishermen’s Hospital mean anchoring in Boot Key Harbor is a more affordable option than hooking up to a ball.
“Please pay attention to economics, because it matters to people like me on a pension,” Wagner pleaded.
David Malpas and his wife, Janae Coston, said they chose to live on a boat when their mortgage payments surpassed their budget.
“What about a 15 to 30 minute course with a registration sticker on the front of my boat that certifies I know the regulations?’ he suggested of a solution for improperly anchored vessels. “If I’m in the wrong area, I can move. This is about money.”
Marathon Ports Manager Richard Tanner clarified for the audience that he never nor had any vision of mandating that boaters secure their vessel on a mooring ball.
“Contrary to popular belief, I do not support any changes to the anchorage field,” Tanner pointed out. You cannot mandate that any boater come on a mooring ball. Every mooring field needs an anchorage area. The economic conditions in Marathon have finally caught up with Boot Key Harbor.”
MPAC member Mimi Stafford said at the Key Largo meeting, there were concerns about criminal activity, so clearly each geographic area of the Keys is facing its own set of challenges.
“Please understand there is boating experience within this committee,” noted Bill Hunter. “We talked a lot about problems here tonight, but Marathon is the model.”
The third workshop was held at 6 pm at the Harvey Government Center in Key West just as The Weekly Newspapers was headed to print.