The Marathon City Council voted 3-2 to close both the Quay boat ramp and Harbor Drive boat ramp in Marathon from Tuesday to Thursday, July 28-30. Only the boat ramp at 33rd Street will stay open, but just for Marathon locals or guests with a current, valid vacation rental contract or hotel receipt. Commissioners Dan Zieg and Steve Cook dissented, while Commissioners Luis Gonzalez, John Bartus and Mark Senmartin supported the resolution.
Local access will not be granted to Key Colony Beach residents or guests.
At the meeting two weeks ago, the majority of the Marathon City Council declined to close the boat ramps during the sport lobster season using the rationale that it was safer to have the visiting crowd on the water, rather than on land at restaurants and bars. But when both Monroe County and Islamorada announced earlier this week that some Upper Keys boat ramp facilities would be closed from July 24 to Aug. 9, Marathon Councilman Luis Gonzalez called a special meeting for July 24.
The council heard from many residents, most who wanted the ramps closed for fear of pushing day trippers further into the Keys to Marathon, and some who cautioned about the effects on Marathon’s reputation as a travel destination.
“Closing from Tuesday to Friday will accomplish little to nothing,” said Marathon resident and former councilman Jeff Pinkus. “If we close it for longer, we are sending the message that we are welcoming tourists during the current crisis.”
Isabel Collazo, a Miami-Dade resident who owns and rents two homes in Marathon, was not in favor of closing the boat ramp. “We have people who booked their stay more than a year ago. If we close boat ramps to them, then we are alienating them from our city. The people who work at restaurants or clean homes or do landscaping need jobs and we need to keep our visitors happy to a certain extent. We need to think of this as a whole for the City of Marathon.”
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Florida and Wildlife Conservation told the council the agencies did not have enough personnel to verify users’ local identification at all three boat ramps. The law enforcement officers also questioned the notice of the closures.
“The lack of notice to people on the mainland is going to be a nightmare. We did an extensive amount of advertising about the checkpoint during quarantine, but we still turned away hundreds if not thousands of cars a day,” said MCSO Capt. Don Hiller, adding that his officers would be at higher risk for COVID-19 by the contact necessary to check valid identification. “I don’t know if it’s wise to do that at this stage.”
“I concur 100 percent,” said FWC Capt. Dave Dipre. “The FWC is already short staffed. Also, if officers are on land dealing with traffic, then they are not on the water looking for violations.”
Dipre said, “I strongly believe that there is insufficient time to notify people not to come down here to the Keys. They are coming regardless at this point in time.”
Hiller told the council he does not have the ability to require officers to work without giving more notice due to union rules. He also noted that the 33rd Street boat ramp would require 24-hour policing because some users would be launching at night, after work or with the intent of bully netting. Senmartin acknowledged the effort required from the agencies and volunteered to shut his business so he could help staff the 33rd Street Boat Ramp.
Zieg said he supported closing the boat ramp, but voted against the ordinance for two reasons. “I heard what the officers said about concerns about staffing and COVID-19 exposure. It would be easier for them if we just closed the boat ramps completely, to everybody. But if the ramp is open, I think we should allow access to residents from our sister city, Key Colony Beach.”
Marathon councilmembers acknowledged they were reacting to actions taken by governments to their north, and said closures in the Upper Keys would force day trippers as far south as Marathon to find a ramp. There are public ramps to the south of Marathon.
“Reactive government is never really good,” Bartus said. “I would like to see the city form a task force with other local governments to come up with some solutions for mini-season in the future. We need to see where we are going.”
After the 3-2 vote on the resolution, the council then voted unanimously to pass an order to enforce the boat ramp closure.