At the November BOCC meeting, the County Commissioners used a vessel pumpout clarification to send a clear message to illegal boat dwellers: “This will serve as notice.”
Rich Jones, the senior administrator of marine resources for the county, opened the agenda item discussing ambiguity within the Keys-Wide Mobile Vessel Pumpout Service. Historically, Jones said, the pumpout vendor serviced private marinas and boats docked behind houses. These services are beyond the scope of the current pumpout contract the county pays for, he said. When that fact was brought up, the vendor stopped pumping out from those locations. “When pumpouts behind condos and houses stopped, the complaint calls started,” says Jones. “I’ve received about 30.”
Jones requested BOCC direction on what to do going forward. “There are two timelines here — immediate future and longer term,” said Jones. “Perhaps for now we keep pumping everyone out for the next one to two to three years, while staff prepares notice letters to send to all marinas?” He continues, “After that, at the direction of the board, perhaps we phase out service to marinas and anything other than anchor-outs.”
The commissioners have previously debated the merits and the stinkier side of continuing to provide pumpout services for vessels at private residences and marinas. In September, Commissioner Michelle Coldiron noted that the original state funding was meant to be used for vessels that do not have access to those services, such as those at anchor-outs, but that it was being used to pump out these private property locations as well. “That’s county money that we can use.”
On the other side, lobbying the county to pick up the private pumpouts service again, Commissioner David Rice jested, “It’s kinda counter-productive not to if we want to keep the poop out of the water!” Continuing, he added, “My goal is to pump out all marinas that qualify. I don’t know a better way to do it.” He weighed the different challenges, saying, “This eliminates a lot of excuses and problems, and I think it’s important we perform this function in a way that assures the maximum number of people will be appropriately pumping out.”
The direction was generally clear regarding private marinas, and the commissioners agreed service should be provided until marinas have their own pumpouts in place. Commissioner Sylvia Murphy suggested setting a timeline for marina owners to come into compliance by including a deadline within notice letters.
Regarding illegal liveaboards behind homes, the water was a little murkier. Murphy, shaking her head, said, “Now, I’m grouchy. It’s illegal to live aboard a boat behind a house. At some point we have to stop coddling the people who are breaking the rules just because they feel like it.” The commissioner added, “I don’t want to incentivize illegal B&Bs with owners living on their boats or using their boats as illegal B&Bs.”
Rice, while agreeing that illegal liveaboards are a problem, noted, “That’s a code enforcement issue. But do we want the stuff in the water or not? If not, we should pump out all boats behind homes that are lived in.”
Realizing that there was no realistic way that the commissioners, marine resources, or the pumpout captains could possibly distinguish which vessels are “regularly used” versus “illegally lived-in,” Coldiron concluded, “If we don’t pump out, I’m worried they’ll dump into our canals that we’re working so hard to clean. So, I think we just need to keep it in place.”
In the end, Jones highlighted that the problematic pumpouts — those to vessels behind homes —accounted for 7.9% of total pumpouts performed by the county in June 2019. Rice suggested a friendly way to bring together the different priorities: “At this point in time, as we gear up the program, it’s only 7.9%, so let’s keep doing it but send a letter telling them the service will stop by a certain date,” he said. “That letter serves as notice that living behind a house has an expiration date.”
Murphy moved to approve the motion, and Rice seconded. He said. “Let’s pump out everyone, but serve notice it won’t be like this any more. Soon.” The BOCC unanimously approved.