A special virtual meeting is set to consider the second reading of an ordinance that proposes to create a vessel exclusion zone north of Port Antigua and White Marlin Beach on Lower Matecumbe Key.
Calls for a meeting solely to discuss the subject matter came after members of the public weren’t able to voice their views during a July 16 meeting of Islamorada Village Council. Around 15 people were able to speak when the ordinance came up for consideration, but a Zoom capacity limit of about 100 people prevented others from joining in to speak. As a result, council members unanimously agreed to defer the issue to a future meeting, which is set for Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 5:30 p.m.
Village officials say they have “significantly increased” the capacity so all public members can be heard. According to Rick Hoskins, Port Antigua resident, there were anywhere from 40 to 60 members wishing to speak who couldn’t join the July 16 meeting.
As for the proposal, Village Attorney Roget Bryan said the ordinance isn’t proposed to regulate any of the upland beach area along any portions of the swim area. Bryan said it’s purely regulating the navigable waters, waterward from the mean high water line. Per chapter 327 of Florida statutes, Bryan said the village has the authority to create certain boating-restricted areas, for the purposes of vessel safety.
“This is being designated as a public swim area, not a public bathing beach,” he said. “There is indeed a southern, or landward boundary from the area, and it is the mean high water line. That’s where it starts and goes waterward.”
Attorney Paul Savage spoke to council members on behalf of 29 local homeowners adjacent to the proposed swim zone, 27 in the Port Antigua community and two in the White Marlin Beach community. Savage said everyone understands the issue out on the water to be a serious problem. The proposal, however, isn’t the correct regulatory tool as it’ll create a public beach and draw more people and more trespassers.
“He (the village attorney) says it’s clearly marked that there’s an upland boundary when in fact it’s not,” he said. “It doesn’t say anything in the text that it’s an upland boundary. There’s a ragged, undefined edge along the beach which basically makes this a public beach. The village is formally and officially saying in its code and in its map that this is going to be a public beach.”
The ordinance passed unanimously on first reading. The proposal aims to regulate the navigable areas and not the private beach within the community, according to village officials. Issues have continued off the beach where boaters anchor to enjoy a day on the water. Boat traffic and activity have increased in the area over the years, leading to noise, trashing and trespassing.
Public comment will be accepted by webinar link, by telephone or by email. Public comment may be submitted via email to [email protected] to be shared with the Village Council for review prior to the meeting. Public comment submitted by email will not be read aloud during the meeting.