City ponders future of Truman Annex Harbor
It was difficult to determine whether it was Key West City Commissioner Richard Payne or revolutionary activist Thomas Paine at Old City Hall this past Tuesday evening. The former Key West judge passionately lambasted the Navy over rights to the Truman Annex Harbor — even receiving outward cheers of support from the audience throughout his fervent plea.
“Thank God for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Adams and others who had the sense to give us a Bill of Rights,” said Commissioner Payne from the dais. “And the Fifth Amendment, of which shrined the principle that private property cannot be taken by our government without first making payment of just compensation to the owner of that property. After all, we are not a communist or third world country where property can be taken without recourse.”
Since being elected to the commission last year, Payne has called for the Navy to grant the City access and usage of the Truman Annex harbor — citing a long-standing agreement that he claims is being neglected by an abuse of power. In recent months, Payne reached out to several Monroe County legislators, including U.S. Congressman Carlos Curbelo, asking them to intervene on behalf of the City’s interest.
Although the City is still awaiting a response from the Navy, the issue was ushered back into the spotlight at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting when an agenda item asked commissioners to approve a $150,000 grant. The grant funds, plus another $50,000 of in-kind dollars, would be the City’s contribution for repairs on over 300 feet of dilapidated seawall around the Truman Annex harbor.
Commissioners Payne, Samuel Kaufman, and Billy Wardlow all expressed reservations. Payne argued the wall was solely the responsibility of the Navy — at least until a new agreement could be reached. Kaufman cautioned that approving the grant could hinder current negotiations between the City and the Navy.
“Fellow Commissioners, there is absolutely no benefit to the citizens of Key West to refurbish this [seawall],” said Commissioner Payne. “And as far as the City of Key West being a partner with the Navy and NOAA, what kind of partner gives you property and then shuts you off from going to and using it so they can have exclusive use of the harbor?”
City Manager Jim Scholl characterized the item as basic “house keeping” and cautioned commissioners that failing to repair the wall could lead to greater costs should the damages become significantly worse during hurricane season. The opportunity to accept the grant expires at the end of this month.
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley offered the compromise: postpone the item until the Navy formally responds to the overlying issue, which are the City’s supposed rights to harbor access.
Dissenting on the postponement were Commissioners Billy Wardlow, Kaufman and Payne. Scholl said the Navy has indicated they will respond to the matter by Friday, June 17.