Zinke caps permit fees for Everglades
Everglades National Park and local fishing guides seemed to be making progress on proposed fees to the park’s commercial use authorization permit program and entrance fee structure pre-Irma. Commercial use permits allow private businesses, like fishing guides, to operate within federal lands and waters.
“The last meeting we had seemed to go very well,” said Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association Commodore Steve Friedman of discussions with park officials prior to the storm.
Local fishing organizations strongly opposed proposed price hikes in August – pointing to the undue burden the proposals would cause. Then along came Irma and added more to an already full plate.
Everglades National Park itself was beat up. Its Gulf Coast visitor’s center and facility management center were destroyed. Storm surge and wind downed trees, and littered roads with vegetation.
Following the destruction, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the park.
“Secretary Zinke came to personally assess the damage caused by Hurricane Irma and ensure the well being of his NPS team in South Florida,” said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks.
Over in the Shark Valley area of the park, high water levels have kept trails closed. Gulf Coast, where the visitor’s center was destroyed, also remains closed. The park’s main road is open up to the Flamingo visitor center, where services are still limited.
“We’re now looking to a phased re-opening of this important attraction in South Florida as soon as possible, hopefully within the next several weeks,” said Ramos. “We’re working hard to re-establish full services at Flamingo, and are looking forward to working with our new concessionaire, GSI, this fall as they transition into business at Everglades National Park. All in all, we expect to have the ability to operate a great 2017-2018 season for our visitors in south Florida.”
After scheduling a post-hurricane meeting with local fishing guides, Zinke and Ramos announced that CUA holder permits will increase $50 for 2018.
Members of Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, Lower Keys Fishing Guides Association, Florida Fishing Guide Association, Capt. Charlie Phillips of Florida Guides Association, Ramos and his deputy Justin Unger, Scott Shepherd of Guest Services Inc., and Secretary Zinke were all present.
Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association board member Xavier Figueroa said the outlook for fishermen is good.
“A take away from that meeting is that they capped the outrageous 400 percent increase at only $50. So for 2018, the total permit cost will be $300. But after that, it’s up to the park and guides to continue to discuss proposals and find common ground,” said Figueroa.
Friedman said guides had previously taken exception to the park service’s definition of a “reasonable” fee increase.
In the same conversation the group also discussed daily visitor passes. Previously, passes were included in the total permit cost. No agreement was reached, but some fishing organizations proposed that the passes continue to be included in the total cost. It’s another decision to be hashed out over the next few months, said Figueroa.
During the meeting Ramos announced that he plans to have another dialogue with the CUA holders next year before making the decision on fees for 2019.
Xavier Figueroa cast out in the Florida Bay during a recent tour with the Weekly. GABRIEL SANCHEZ/Keys Weekly