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Government
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County to hold COVID-19 meeting

The Monroe County Commission will hold an emergency meeting today, Wednesday, and vote on lifting its COVID-19 restrictions, which includes the wearing of masks and people social distancing.

The meeting comes two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order eliminating and superseding “any existing emergency order or ordinance issued by a county or municipality that imposes restrictions or mandates upon businesses or individuals due to the COVID-19 emergency,” the order stated.

“For the remaining duration of the state of emergency initiated by Executive Order 20-52, no county or municipality may renew or enact an emergency order or ordinance, using a local state of emergency or using emergency enactment procedures under Chapters 125, 252, or 166, Florida Statutes, that imposes restrictions or mandates upon businesses or individuals due to the COVID-19 emergency,” the order stated. “This order is effective immediately.”

Monroe County Mayor Michelle Coldiron proposed the County Commission support the governor’s order.

“My philosophy is to stay under the governor’s umbrella,” she said Tuesday. “I want to be in lockstep with the governor, if that is the will of my fellow county commissioners. ... Nothing prevents the people from wearing masks if they feel they need to do so.”

Private businesses can also still require masks and customers to social distance, Coldiron said.

If passed by the County Commission, the restrictions would be lifted for all county government buildings, facilities and public libraries, Coldiron said. Coldiron recommended that people be vaccinated, she said.

The County Commission will continue to have a hybrid platform for BOCC meetings. The public is welcome in person or via zoom. The Zoom meeting will be available at www.monroecounty-fl.gov/BoccSpecialMay5 or https://mcbocc.zoom.us/j/94584213126.

People can also participate via the telephone by calling 646-518-9805 or 669-900-6833. The webinar ID number is 945 8421 3126.

The Monroe County School District has received questions about it’s policy requiring masks at all district buildings and activities. This policy has not changed and will remain in place until at least the end of the 2020-2021 school year, according to a school district press release released Tuesday.

“Neither EO-21-101 nor EO-21-102 impact any school district’s policies for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year,” the press release stated.

The Monroe County School District received a communication from the Florida Department of Education Monday evening which clarifies recent executive orders about the wearing of masks issued by the state of Florida, EO-21-101 and EO-21-102.

“Questions have arisen over the impacts of the Executive Orders EO-21-101, which is not effective until July 1, 2021, and EO-21-102, which is effective immediately,” the Florida Department of Education said in prepared statement. “To clarify, EO-21-102 only impacts city and county governments, and does NOT impact school districts and individual schools. Moreover, EO-21-101 and EO-21-102 only impacts restrictive COVID-19 orders/ordinances that are adopted through emergency enactment.”

The Key West City Commission was scheduled Tuesday night to discuss and vote on its regulations dealing with COVID-19 pandemic. The commission had yet to meet as of press time for The Key West Citizen print edition. More details will be in the Thursday electronic edition of the newspaper.

tohara@keysnews.com


Road construction on Bertha Street is now in its second week with crews currently working on the northbound lane. The project, which is a partnership between Monroe County and the City of Key West, includes new ADA sidewalks, landscape cut-outs, ramps and new stormwater collection systems as well as rehabilitation to existing systems. For a list of raodwork around the area, see page 2A.


Southbound traffic flows freely on Bertha Street Tuesday morning from Venetia Street to Atlantic Boulevard while northbound traffic is rerouted to George Street. The project includes a complete overhaul of First Street from Flagler Avenue to North Roosevelt Boulevard and is slated for completion in June of 2022.


Local
featured
Keys face insurance rate increase

The state Legislature has approved a bill that would increase the annual rate cap for windstorm insurance rates for property owners in the Florida Keys covered by Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

The bill, if signed by the governor, will allow the annual rate cap of 10% for property owners to be increased by as much as 15% within the next five years.

The Monroe County government and the local insurance watchdog group FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe) had been lobbying against increasing the cap and had requested a carve-out for Monroe County, but the request was denied by state legislators.

The county and FIRM reminded state legislators that the Citizens Board of Governors voted in favor of a carve-out for Monroe County in the rate filings presented to the Office of Insurance Regulation on March 15. However, the legislation has no mention of a carve-out for Monroe County.

However, language was removed from the bill that would have freed insurers from paying the full replacement cost on roof damage. Reducing the reimbursement is a substantial decrease in coverage for policyholders and has the potential to conflict with warranties. Metal roof warranties are 30 years. Mitigation credit schedules would have to be adjusted, and federally-backed mortgages require a property to be fully insured, according to FIRM.

The legislation comes the same year that Citizens is hitting rate owners with its first rate increase in roughly four years. Rates in the Keys were frozen after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Owners of single-family homes will see an increase of about 8% and condominium owners will see an increase of about 9.5%, according to Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

tohara@keysnews.com


To Our Readers

The Key West Citizen , which has been the Florida Keys’ trusted news source since 1876, aims to keep our readers aware and informed of all local news, sports and entertainment, so we’ve upgraded our website, http://www.keysnews.com, to provide up-to-date information, with breaking news alerts and links to Facebook and Twitter.

We offer numerous subscription options, including print — which also provides access to the e-edition of The Citizen and Florida Keys Free Press, our weekly newspaper. Subscription prices are listed on Page 2A.

Because of the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary reduction in print publication days to three — Wednesday, Friday and Saturday — digital access becomes even more valuable, as our Tuesday and Thursday editions are 100% digital. To access your digital version of each day’s edition of The Key West Citizen, go to http://www.keysnews.com and click on e-Editions. Subscribers can also access breaking news on The Citizen’s Facebook page. Finally, we are always available to serve you; call 305-292-7777.


Local
featured
Proposed bypass faces opposition

A proposed road-widening project and elevated express lane that would bypass a key portion of Florida City’s commercial corridor and connect the Florida Turnpike to U.S. 1 just before the 18-Mile Stretch is garnering opposition from business leaders both on the mainland and in the island chain.

The Florida Department of Transportation began a study in 2017 to evaluate the future traffic needs of the region and determined a need to widen a 3-mile portion of U.S. 1 in the next few years based on traffic projections for 2045.

The project would begin on U.S. 1 at its intersection with S.W. 344th St. and end on the Turnpike near N.W. 8th St. But Brian Conesa, of the Tropical Everglades Visitor Association in Florida City, said “all businesses here are in opposition” to the project.

Conesa said businesses along that segment of U.S. 1 would be devastated by the bypass, since many are reliant on motorists being able to easily turn off into their parking lots. He fears the change would cause mass closures and discourage new businesses from coming to the area. Furthermore, he doesn’t believe the project would solve traffic congestion. Traffic in Florida City and in the Florida Keys can be notoriously bad, but Conesa said it only becomes a problem at certain times.

“Usually when we see heavy traffic it’s because of an accident. They’re trying to alleviate it by adding two lanes and it’s not going to solve it,” he said.

Instead, in Conesa’s view, FDOT should be adding more lanes to the 18-Mile Stretch, where the narrow, two-lane road creates a bottleneck of traffic that at times backs up for miles.

Dennis Caltagirone, chairman of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Conesa, saying that keeping the stretch two lanes was “crazy,” and commented on how recklessly drivers pass on the areas with passing lanes. He says the stretch should have been four lanes when it was built.

Conesa wrote in an editorial in the South Dade News Leader that FDOT was prioritizing businesses in the Keys over South Dade businesses. He and other business leaders from Florida City held a meeting with FDOT last Monday to express their displeasure.

Caltagirone said FDOT has not been in communication with anyone in the Keys about the proposed traffic project as far as he knows.

“I don’t recall anyone in the Keys saying ‘you should do an extension in Florida City and prioritize our business and hurt our neighbor,’” he said.

Caltagirone agrees the project would do little to help curb traffic jams and would hurt business in Florida City. Some businesses on the mainland are members of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. He said the proposed bypass would be a microcosm of an FDOT project in the Tampa Bay area, similar to this one, which involved creating a highway bypass that ended up hurting local businesses.

“Small businesses always get hurt when you do projects like this,” Caltagirone said. “As a chamber leader, I’d like to see small businesses not get hurt.”

Caltagirone also expressed displeasure with past efforts to communicate with FDOT about other project impacts. He said when FDOT re-landscaped the medians in Key Largo and added native trees and shrubs many businesses were obscured and lost patrons. Other projects, he said, have been met with opposition from the community, but FDOT has proceeded anyway.

Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster, who represents the Upper Keys, was unaware of the discussion of a highway bypass in Florida City, but once informed of it, he was in agreement that the project would serve little value and would hurt business.

For one, Forster doesn’t believe the project is going to alleviate traffic problems, and even if it did, he doesn’t think letting more people into the Keys is a good idea.

“Our statistics show we are at maximum capacity for tourism,” he said.

Forster, owner of Mangrove Mike’s Cafe in Islamorada, said that if there was a discussion of building a bypass in front of his business, he would be devastated.

“I depend on that traffic because I’m at the midway point of Key West and Miami,” Forster said.

Unlike Conesa and Caltagirone, Forster doesn’t favor widening the 18-Mile Stretch, citing again that the Keys are already at capacity. He said there isn’t a “silver bullet” to fixing the traffic problems in the Keys.

Otis T. Wallace, mayor of Florida City, is also in strong opposition to the project for the same reasons. He added that just the proposition of the traffic bypass has already had negative effects on the city’s economy. He said several development projects have been suspended indefinitely.

“We have had public meetings where not a single person from Homestead or Florida City was in favor,” Wallace said, but efforts to communicate this with FDOT have yielded little results.

When asked about the concerns regarding hurting businesses and not addressing traffic at its root cause, representatives from FDOT did not respond.

The project is currently undergoing a project development and environmental study, which is scheduled to be completed by fall of this year. A webpage with information about the project on FDOT’s website said that no-action alternatives are being studied as a part of this phase. Potential economic and environmental consequences of the project are said to be studied during this phase as well.

eweld@keysnews.com


Crime
featured
Man arrested after brawl at resort

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested a 23-year-old Gainesville, Florida, man on Saturday evening after he reportedly exposed himself and attempted to fight several people at the Big Pine Fishing Lodge.

Deputies arrested Tyler Gregory Mott on charges of battery, disorderly conduct, voyeurism, indecent exposure and resisting arrest, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt.

Deputy Brandon White responded to a call of a subject fighting multiple people call at approximately 6:50 p.m. He arrived to find the suspect, later identified as Mott, fighting several people before he was taken to the ground, Linhardt said.

Mott would not let Deputy White handcuff him and pulled away from Deputy White. Mott was finally placed in a patrol vehicle, Linhardt said.

Deputy White spoke to multiple witnesses. The ruckus began when a man and his wife reportedly saw Mott looking in their trailer window. Mott was reportedly masturbating, Linhardt said.

The couple reported the incident to security while another man confronted Mott. Mott became belligerent. He began threatening multiple people at the scene near the store area and then the pool, Linhardt said.

One man near the pool said Mott approached and began badgering him and his wife. The man said he pushed Mott into the pool. Mott continued to make threats, including threats that he would return with a gun, Linhardt said.

Multiple people then worked to physically detain Mott until Deputy White arrived. While en route to jail Mott made several bizarre and nonsensical comments, Linhardt said. When Deputy White asked about the incident, Mott stated he caught some grunts and ate some tacos. Mott was booked into jail.


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