A 52-unit affordable housing complex on 39th Street in Marathon is just one piece of the housing puzzle in the city. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

Still Building Answers for Affordable Housing

The affordable housing crisis has been a significant issue in Monroe County for at least 15 years. When I was a County Planner here in 1987, I couldn’t afford housing, and eventually left for greener pastures. … Affordable housing is a critical issue. Unless we are successful with our efforts, it could adversely affect our community for years to come.” – Scott Janke, Marathon City Manager

If affordable housing isn’t atop the list of concerns for most Marathon residents, it’s in the top three, as nearly every employer struggles to retain their most valued workers in the midst of inflation, a dwindling long-term housing stock and an exploding vacation rental pool. Though most experts would agree Marathon can’t “build its way out of” the affordable housing crisis, and many of its driving factors are governed at the state level, recent years have seen hundreds of new units built between Duck Key and the Seven Mile Bridge. The city’s mooring field in Boot Key Harbor, which contained 64 moorings in 2003 according to Janke, now boasts 226 permanent moorings, and the harbor has become a valued housing resource for the Marathon workforce.

ROGO Heading for Reckoning

“Council Tries to Fix ROGO” – headline by Ed Frost

A headline that could just as easily be written in 2023. Building allocations throughout the Keys will soon reach a reckoning point, with allocations set to fully expire in Marathon in less than two years. Frost’s headline and article describe the efforts of the 2003 Marathon City Council – Mayor Randy Mearns, Vice Mayor Pete Worthington and councilmen John Bartus, Jeff Pinkus and John Repetto – to alter ROGO point criteria to “favor local residency” and “reduce the number of ROGO points that could in effect be ‘purchased.’” The same discussions could be – and have been – added to any council agenda in 2023.

Same Rates, New Price

When the city put together its first budget in 2000, the assessed property value was just under $1 billion.” – Ed Frost, “City Council Adopts Rollback Rate”

While the current tentative millage rate (2.4477 mills) for Marathon’s 2023-24 budget isn’t too far off from its 2003-2004 number (2.4931), property values in Marathon are now worth north of $4.1 billion.

We Really, Really Hate Storms With “I” Names

A satellite view of Hurricane Irma in 2017. WIKIPEDIA/Contributed

“Keys Keeping Wary Eye on Isabel; Major hurricane still days away from potential impact” – headline by John Bartus

Thankfully, the deadliest, costliest and most intense hurricane of the 2003 season spared the Keys, but made landfall in North Carolina with winds of 105 mph. The devastation brought by Hurricane Irma 14 years later needs no explanation. Thanks to the National Weather Service pros in Key West, our ability to predict, prepare for, and react appropriately to storms like Ian (2022) and Idalia (2023) has grown by leaps and bounds. But it goes without saying that storms with “I” names give Floridians a reason to shudder.

We Still Take Pride in Dolphin Country

Then-head coach Lance Martin leads the 2003 Dolphins football team through a practice. KEYS WEEKLY

Second-year head coach Lance Martin guided the Fins to a 6-6 record and a playoff win in his first year at the helm, starting the ‘03 season 2-0 with quarterback Chris Kuck when the Weekly was born. Today, Martin still spends his Friday nights under the lights of Marathon’s brand new stadium as the school’s athletic director, but Dolphin Country is still the place to be to start the weekend as coach Sean McDonald’s 2023 Fins take the field.

Gripes About Grouper

Jewfish, a.k.a. ‘Goliath Grouper’ for those P.C. wussies, were an endangered species. Some years ago their ranks were decimated. … Today, they have made a dramatic if not somewhat horrific comeback in many cases according to Gulfside wreck fishermen. … Whatever the solution, many wreck fishermen that I have interviewed … are fed up with the current situation. They want some sort of open season.” – Rick Berry, “A Few Words About Jewfish”

Goliath grouper harvest has been illegal since 1990 in Florida, but that certainly hasn’t stopped recreational and commercial fishermen tired of being “taxed” by these fish from debating the extent of the species’ recovery – and the viability of several ongoing harvest options – in the decades since. In early 2022, FWC approved an extremely limited, highly-regulated harvest of 200 fish per year starting in 2023, regulated by a random lottery among paying entrants. It was the first harvest of its kind in 33 years.

Shaming the Scooters

It is my understanding … that both KCB and Marathon City councils are planning a meeting to discuss the gas-operated stand-up go-peds … that are both fast and noisy, and driven primarily by allegedly irresponsible youngsters. I do not believe that adults who use properly-equipped electric scooters for transportation on sidewalks should be part of this new issue. In fact, I don’t believe the two councils should be wasting taxpayers’ money even discussing such a trivial issue.” – Bond Ying, Letter to the Editor

Most folks would probably agree they’re glad the loud go-ped era is over, but Mr. Ying might be surprised to see just how much electric scooters now form the center of this “new-old” issue. For the first time in city history, Marathon passed an electric scooter and E-bike ordinance in 2023 to address use of various vehicles on sidewalks and roadways. Today, electric scooters are a critical mode of transportation for Marathon’s workforce … and yeah, maybe a few of those “allegedly irresponsible youngsters,” too.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.