Indian Key. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

A new survey regarding the Fills in Islamorada led to some tense moments between Vice Mayor Sharon Mahoney and Village Manager Ted Yates in the lead up to a discussion at the March 30 meeting. 

During the mayor and council communication period, the first-time councilwoman acknowledged that she entered the Fills fray after witnessing Councilman Henry Rosenthal’s requests to resolve the issues surrounding the property pushed to the side. Like Rosenthal, Mahoney said she wants the matter of the Fills off of the village’s plate sooner than later. Mahoney said she subsequently contacted each council member to see if there was support for a resident-led community survey, with the goal to gauge from the community whether the Fills should be left alone or developed into something more. 

“The Fills are not about the tourists, not about the hotels or money. The Fills are about the residents,” she said. 

Mahoney ended up going to village residents Sue Miller, Alina Davis and Sandy Moret to develop five questions for a survey. She then called upon the services of Carlo Garcia, of Attention Media and creator of Islamorada Social, to provide an online platform where residents could complete the survey beginning in April. 

Yates told the dais that he didn’t know questions were being formed. He added that he did not receive calls from all of the council acknowledging they wanted to move forward with a survey. 

“What I want to make sure of is that I can work for the council and help you facilitate anything you pursue; that’s why I ask my office be involved in that,” Yates said. “I want to make sure it’s done the right way, and make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible and engaging the community.”

Yates also said he wasn’t sure if the whole council participated in crafting the questions for the Fills survey. Mahoney responded by stating that she didn’t ask the council. 

“I asked the public. Why should the village make up the questions? It’s the people who live here who I think should have the questions, and that’s how we designed it.”

Mahoney said she received an email from Yates that said the village would conduct the survey. Mahoney said she contacted Yates and “we had words.”

“I wanted everyone to have a say. I wasn’t going behind your back,” Mahoney said. “I didn’t think you wanted to be involved in a survey; that’s why I didn’t call you. I did it because you have a full plate.”

Mayor Buddy Pinder said he was under the impression that all council members spoke to Yates expressing their support for Mahoney to guide a survey. 

Yates said he doesn’t have issues with the survey, but he did want to provide the council with information on previous work and surveys on the Fills that took place before he came on as village manager. While Yates said the Fills could be a passive, scenic area for residents and tourists driving through town, he stated that the intent isn’t to create a park. 

“It was erroneously put out on social media that staff wants to create a park; that’s not been the intent all along,” Yates said. 

Mahoney said the last plan she saw involved some 30 parking spaces and a kayak launch, to name a few amenities. 

“I don’t think that’s what people want,” she said. “My concern is for the people in this community.” 

The survey can be found on sometime early April. Mahoney said residents will have about a month to fill out the survey before a meeting is held to discuss results and a plan forward. 


In late 2021, a community meeting was held by the village and its consultants, CPH Inc. to discuss potential concepts for the Fills, which span from MM 79.6 to MM 77.7. CPH Inc. was hired by the village at a cost not to exceed $55,000. Residents were able to view the concepts and provide feedback to the consultants via a one-on-one discussion. Results were published by the firm in November 2021, which showed some 344 responses and comments from local residents. Of those responding, 92% said they owned property in the village. 

Roughly 60% of the respondents were opposed to the idea of bringing active recreation, like boat and kayak access, to Indian Key Fill and passive uses, such as bike and pedestrian amenities, to Tea Table Relief and Lignumvitae Fills. 

Residents were split on the idea of overlooks and pull-off areas to allow safe and specified locations for taking photos of the water and viewing sunsets. As for parking, a high number of respondents, 61%, disagreed with the idea on the Fills. But if parking was provided, 77% believed people should be charged for using the parking spots. A majority also believed in charges for boat launch parking.

A number of comments mentioned the area of the Fills shouldn’t be developed into a park. Rather, it should be kept a natural area. 

Some residents spoke out against the survey during a February 2022 meeting. Capt. Ed Davidson told the council during a February 2022 meeting that it forced residents to repeatedly choose “the lesser of two evils.” 

Following the publishing of the results, the previous council had directed staff to pursue guardrails with vegetation and paved parking with meters during its Feb. 17, 2022 meeting. More plans were presented by A.J. Engelmeyer, village public works director, in June 2022.


Discussions over the three small islands that connect Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys go back several years. Property comprising the Fills is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, with exception to a single parcel on Indian Key Fill that’s leased by the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks. 

Through the years, visitors to Tea Table Relief, Indian and Lignumvitae Fills grew. Issues came to a breaking point following a busy Memorial Day Weekend in 2019, when residents witnessed overflowing dumpsters and all sorts of trash along the nearshore and mangroves. 

By 2020, the village agreed to manage the area owned by FDOT and FDEP. With subleases secured from the state, Islamorada assumed control of the area. From there, village staff created parking spaces, limited area access by vehicles through barricades and cones. They installed trash drums and placed portable toilets. 

Village staff were also assigned to monitor visitor activity. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office worked to reduce the speed limit to 45 mph.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.