Lt. Gov. Jeannette Nunez and Village Mayor Deb Gillis discuss the Fills during a recent multi-agency meeting held June 21 at the Roth Building. The meeting was put together by Sheriff Rick Ramsay. CONTRIBUTED

Amid elevated concerns surrouding Indian Key Fill, multiple state agencies convened with Sheriff Rick Ramsay and village officials at the Roth Building on June 21 to discuss a path forward.

Indian Key Fill, which connects Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys, is an area where many day-trippers come to pitch tents, barbecue and enjoy the day. The boat ramp is also a popular spot as boaters can launch at no cost. Property and the ramp are owned by the state. 

But during holidays and weekends, the area is left trashed, with garbage and debris along the shoreline and in the water. It’s leaving many locals upset and disgusted, and look no further than response to videos posted on Facebook this past weekend of a man defecating and another of a man DJing. 

The June 21 meeting, organized by Ramsay, began with acknowledgement that the Fills cannot be closed to the public. The area, however, has become a traffic safety issue with accidents. Ramsay stated his priorities of reducing the speed limit to 45 mph, creating no-left-turn and no-passing zones through the area, to which FDOT District 6 Secretary James Wolfe was responsive. 

“I’ve been saying for a while, and to this day, that the 3-mile stretch should be 45 mph,” Ramsay said. “There’s so much traffic and congestion and so many people pulling on and off the roads. We’ve got fishing bridges and people camping out. There’s so much distracted driving.”

Overall, Islamorada Mayor Deb Gillis said the meeting was positive in the sense that multiple agencies were in the room to discuss improvements and solutions: the Florida Department of Transportation, Fish and Wildlife, Department of Environmental Protection, National Park Service, Florida Highway Patrol, State Attorney Dennis Ward, Village Manager Seth Lawless, Village Attorney Roget Bryan, Village Public Works Director A.J. Engelmeyer and Sara Craven, district director for state Rep. Holly Raschein. 

“Everybody was on board with trying to make improvements,” Gillis said. “Secretary Wolfe made some commitments as soon as possible fixing stuff for us. There’s short-term and long-term goals on this issue.”

Also attending was Keys homeowner and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez. She said she was glad to be invited by the sheriff to participate and understand the situation. Nuñez said it’s a multi-faceted problem with public health, public safety and quality of life concerns.

“I left understanding that it’s not an easy fix, but there was resolve of all the different players there,” she said. “What was most productive was allowing for a reset of the situation, because there’s been no progress to date.”

Wolfe made several commitments to improve safety along the Fills, including installing barriers at the eroded section of the bike path on the oceanside of Lignumvitae Key near the south end of the Fills. Wolfe also confirmed that FDOT would consider leasing the land to Islamorada and would install no-parking signs at locations to be designated in a detailed plan for the area. The detailed plan would need to be provided by the village with the lease application. In addition, Gillis says she’s committed to putting more trash receptacles and providing porta potties during the remaining holidays this season. 

MEETING GATHERS PUBLIC INPUT ON FILLS

On June 18, the village council called a special meeting to gather public input on solutions and improvements for Indian Key Fill. The nearly two-hour meeting at Founders Park Community Center saw a packed room with many local residents rising to express their frustration and recommending some changes to curb the mayhem and mess. 

Residents’ suggestions ranged from paid parking and paid launching to no-passing zones and a barrier to prevent left-hand turns. Others suggested the village secure a lease with FDOT to maintain the property, or having FDOT fence off the area until a plan’s in place.

Following input from residents, council members chimed in to provide their thoughts. Councilman Ken Davis, who called for the special meeting, said he believes in paid parking. 

“We asked for a special meeting not just to hear from you guys, but that you guys could know that this is a big concern to us and that we can let you know what we’re thinking as well,” he said. 

And while their ideas varied, council urged residents to email and contact state leaders in Tallahassee about the situation. 

“You have to put the pressure on FDOT,” Councilman Jim Mooney said to the crowd. “When you do write emails and send letters to the officials above us at the state level, make sure you let them know they need to be responsible for the shorelines. I’m telling you it’s a $30-40 million job right now, thus that’s why they’re not doing anything anyway.”

Councilwoman Cheryl Meads says she’d like to see temporary fence until there’s a solution in place. 

“I don’t want any more of this,” she said. “I’ve had enough. I look at those pictures and get so mad.”

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