Islamorada Village Council took a step to lessen the number of visitors frequenting the Fills at a July 1 special meeting by agreeing to reduce parking by 50% once the area reopens to the public after the holiday weekend.
Action taken by the dais came following a request by Vice Mayor Ken Davis to close off the state-owned lands where many daytrippers come to spend the day on weekends from now through Labor Day. Some council members expressed concern that closing the Fills could jeopardize a sublease the village has with the Florida Department of Transportation to manage the shoreline area. That led to a compromise to reduce parking spots.
Davis said he wasn’t trying to close down the Fills altogether. Keeping the area open Monday through Thursday would give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beachside, he said.
“When we have to start to staff the Fills with our people, we’re asking them to interact with the very people we’re trying to keep them away from and keep them from getting infected. Our deputies, our staff personnel, why are we running this risk at all?” Davis said. “We’re trying to slow the roll of this pandemic. We have to actually try to slow the roll completely, not partially.”
The Fills, MM 77.5 to 79.8, are closed to the public from July 2 to July 7 as a COVID-19 protection measure. Village staff roped off the Fills to prevent people from pulling off and parking. The full closure went into effect at 5 p.m. on July 2.
There are around 80 parking spots on the Fills, between Tea Table, Indian and Lignumvitae Keys. A reduction would bring that number to 40. Councilman Jim Mooney said council could reduce that even more should they need to.
“That would be really helpful without jeopardizing the lease. Second of all, we’re a tourist community. Unless we put the roadblock back up, they are going to come. It’s just a matter of where they are going to congregate.”
Village Attorney Roget Bryan told council that they have the authority to limit access under terms of a lease with FDOT.
With the checkpoint down and many visitors coming into the Keys, Public Works Director A.J. Engelmeyer told the council that the Fills are anywhere from 75% to 100% full during the week. On the weekends, by 9 a.m. in the morning, it’s 100% full.
“We spend the entire day patrolling the parking and everything,” he said. “Whether we keep Fills open or closed, it will still be fully staffed. That’s to control parking. If I have signs and everything else, they’re still coming.”
Council also took aim at the upcoming lobster mini-season, which takes place July 29-30. The season, which is under the watch of the state and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, is still on despite concerns surrounding the pandemic — not to mention local concerns that have been long voiced over the pillaging of the environment. Discussion was brought forth by Davis in lieu of pandemic concerns, and he said that the upcoming season would be “the worst possible ever bringing people from around the U.S.” Council agreed to issue a letter to the governor urging him to cancel the season. A letter will also be sent to the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners urging them to write to the governor.