Memorial Day weekend came and went in the Keys. At Indian Key Fill, weekenders and day-trippers packed in to enjoy the water.
But like any major summer holiday, they came, they trashed and they left.
Issues surrounding Indian Key Fill, MM 79, aren’t new to locals, the village and the state, which owns the property. With the once popular Card Sound hangout closed, the Fill has become an even more popular destination in the Upper Keys for weekenders to park their cars, launch their boats and hang out for the day — all for free.
But it’s also brought mayhem and messes as evidenced by the photographs circulating the web of the amount of garbage and filth, from plastic bags and beer cans to grills left behind and feces.
“Every year, we talk about what we can do, what rights do we have because it’s inside our village, but we don’t own the grounds,” Mayor Deb Gillis said during a May 30 meeting. “It’s a very difficult thing.”
Village manager Seth Lawless has been working to round up officials from various state agencies with the goal to get some type of group discussion and agreement on a plan to proceed at the Fill. Lawless told council during the meeting that the chaos that ensued during the holiday weekend kicked it to a new level, and it drew him to call FDOT’s District 6 secretary, James Wolfe, the Tuesday following the weekend. In response, FDOT sent down Elizabeth Jett, FDOT representative to listen.
“Jim really wanted a representative here to at least let you know that we do care,” Jett said. “I don’t have a whole lot to offer. I’m aware of the situation, and we’ll be sharing all the information. I’m hopeful we can address the problem. I think it’s going to take some good planning and ideas and willingness to work together.”
Councilman Mike Forster noted that there were talks and meetings in 2012 regarding the Fill with state officials. A plan came out in 2014 outlining a boat ramp designed by Fish and Wildlife Commission, boat trailer and car parking, restroom facility and fishing areas, among other things. There were also discussions in 2016 between village and state officials over improvements.
“It’s not like we have to recreate the wheel,” Forster said. “We had all governmental agencies at this table here and we came up with a plan. Then the FWC appropriations went away on the ramp and FDOT went away as well. We’re back to square zero again.”
Jett said they’ll need to revisit the plan since the footprint is different now due to erosion. Jett, who wasn’t involved with the plan back in 2014, said it’s “a shame that the plan didn’t come to fruition.”
“I’m very hopeful we’ll get there again,” she said. “It’s just going to take diligence and persistence,” she said.
Councilman Jim Mooney said the Fill was an issue in 1998, and “FDOT has literally turned their back on us.”
“The council sees it every day. We understand. We’re part of it too and see it too,” he said. “We’re running into brick walls like everybody and it’s very frustrating.”
Councilwoman Cheryl Meads said the South Florida Water Management District governing board is now discussing the issue following photographs seen on Facebook of the trash. Meads is an at-large member on the board.
“Government agencies are talking about what to do about it,” she said. “I believe a solution is on the way.”
Two residents took to the podium during the meeting to voice their concern and frustration. Village resident Scott Vaughn said he ended up writing to Wolfe following the mayhem at the Fill. Vaughn said he scoops up plastic with a net every time he’s out on the water.
“Each passing year, I see the degradation that’s happening on our waterways,” he said. “The clarity’s gone down, the amount of trash has gone up, fish kills and dead zones in the bay. I’m hoping the council is having further communications with DOT just to see what we can do to monetize.”
Resident Sue Miller said her heart is troubled with the situation at the Fill.
“I always thought the drive from Upper to the Lower Matecumbe was the prettiest place in the Florida Keys,” she said. “Now when I drive there, I have tears in my eyes with bags of trash hanging from the mangroves.”
Councilman Ken Davis said the village’s incurring the cost of trash pickup at the Fills. He asked why the DOT can’t reimburse the village for those costs of “cleaning up the DOT’s mess.” Jett said in response that she couldn’t answer that question, but that it would be brought to the department and the people who make the decisions.