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JUGGLING ACT
Debate continues about number of moorings needed

State and local officials on Tuesday night continued to debate the exact number of mooring balls needed to accommodate live-aboard and stored vessels in the waters off Key West in order to implement a new state law requiring anchored vessels be moved every 90 days.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission held a virtual public workshop Tuesday, Oct. 26, with representatives of the Monroe County and Florida Keys cities’ governments to discuss implementation of a bill the state Legislature passed this year requiring live-aboard and stored vessels within a mile of Key West Bight, which are not in a managed mooring field, be moved every 90 days to prove the vessels are seaworthy and not in danger of becoming derelict and sinking.

Stored and live-aboard vessels sinking and having to be removed is a costly problem in Monroe County. Monroe County has the most derelict vessels in the state, with currently 176 derelict vessels, according to the FWC.

About 60 vessels in the waters off Monroe County have to be removed a year at a cost of $240,000 a year, according to the FWC. The funds to pay for the removal coming from local vessel registration fees, which could be used to pay for channel markers, boat ramps and other improvements all boaters enjoy.

The FWC is currently processing the removal of 27 derelict vessels at a cost of $225,000, according to FWC Maj. Rob Beaton.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 showed just how large the derelict vessel issue is, with 1,600 damaged vessels having to be removed in the Keys following the hurricane, according to Marathon City Manager George Garrett, who cited a figure he received from FWC Capt. Dave Dipre.

“This issue is paramount,” said Garrett, who is the chair of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council.

However, live-aboard vessels are affordable housing in the land-poor Florida Keys, and city of Key West elected officials want to make sure there are some protections for such housing.

The state Legislature put language in the law that requires 300 new moorings be placed off Key West before the law can be implemented requiring vessels be moved every 90 days.

FWC board member and Key West developer Robert Spottswood, Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates and county staff have begun to lobby state legislators and state officials about lowering the number mooring balls to between 70 to 100, arguing 300 is too many and there might not be enough room around key West for that many mooring balls.

Spottswood and county officials would like to have the bill filed this upcoming Legislative session that lowers the number of moorings.

On Tuesday night, Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and Key West City Commissioner Sam Kaufman argued against dropping the number of mooring balls, because of concerns about the need to protect affordable housing.

The City of Key West and county have different estimates on how many stored and live-aboard vessels are around Key West and how many mooring balls are actually needed. The county derived its number of 70 to 100 needed moorings based on the number of stored or live-aboard vessels pumping out within a 1-mile area of Key West.

The City of Key West relied on its number requesting that 170 to 200 mooring balls be placed is based on people using the city’s dinghy docks, according to Key West Port Director Doug Bradshaw. Some live-aboard vessels could have multiple people living on it and use more than one dinghy, Mayor Johnston told The Key West Citizen after the meeting.

Only about 100 of those vessels the city counted had been “pumping out appropriately” and “had been tracked,” Bradshaw said. The pump-out program is free in the Florida Keys. In the past week, the city has changed its dinghy dock policy has tightened up its enforcement of its pump-out regulations for better compliance, Bradshaw said.

“We need to come up that we are all comfortable with,” Mayor Johnston said of the number of moorings.

There are several issues that could keep boaters permanently anchored offshore, instead of connecting to a mooring. The mooring fields are on state-owned bay bottom and boaters can only stay in the mooring field for a year, but Keys officials have lobbied state officials on changing that requirement to allow people to live full time on a mooring ball.

Also, the moorings are given out on first-come, first-served basis and there is no priority given to workers. About 30 of the 150 vessels in the city’s mooring field are stored vessels, not live-aboard vessels, Bradshaw said. As of Jan. 1, the city will no longer allow stored vessels, Bradshaw said

Johnston would like to see changes to state law to allow mooring ball priority given to working people or people living on their vessels full-time, she said.

Also adding to the problem, the mooring balls can’t accommodate large houseboats, boaters said Tuesday night.

Middle Keys Houseboat resident Susanne Kynast said at Tuesday’s meeting that her boat is too large for the current mooring balls in Keys’ mooring fields, and it is safer for her to not to have to pull up her anchors every 90 days. She argued it is better if the anchors are left in place. She also doesn’t want to have to move as she “knows her neighbors” in her current location and “feels safe,” she said.

Capt. Will Benson, who spoke on behalf of the Lower Keys Guides Association, acknowledged the need to protect affordable housing, but supports the legislation because he has witnessed daily the impacts of derelict vessels on the seagrass and other marine resources of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, he said.

The problem continues to grow, said Benson, who is a member of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. Last Friday, he reported to FWC a vessel that was adrift from its anchor and drifting off Key West.

“It’s something we see regularly,” Benson said.

Bill Murray, owner of Murray Marine marina on Stock Island, raised the concern about the people using live-aboard vessels as transient rentals and listing them on AirBnb and other vacation rental websites. Murray constantly sees trash washing up on shore near his marina, which contends is from people living on their boats, he said.

Murray also reported three or four boats that have sunk and have been left abandoned and one has even caught fire recently, he said.

Live-aboard boater Henry Terry argued that the live-aboard boaters are being unfairly targeted by FWC and blamed for trash and other issues that are not caused by live-aboard boats. He has lobbied the state for 99-year bay bottom leases for live-aboard vessels off Key West. Terry and other live-aboard and stored boat owners argued the anchoring law is punishing law-abiding boaters.

City Commissioner Kaufman proposed keeping the 300 mooring balls, but phase in the mooring balls during the next couple years.

Spottswood agreed the process would have to be phased in, but he called 300 new moorings a “big lift” that would take three to four years to permit and complete, furthering the delay of implementing the law, he said.

Also, details still need to be worked out by the FWC on how far the vessels will have to be moved. The FWC and the local leaders, on Tuesday, discussed several options, which included possibly requiring moving a vessel a mile or moving a vessel from one anchoring field to another field as part of a rotation.

tohara@keysnews.com


State
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Dade growth plans raise air base flight fears

The recent spate of development, proposed and otherwise, encircling the Homestead Air Reserve Base has intensified conservationists’ deep-rooted fear of possible commercial cargo flights threatening the survival of Everglades and Biscayne national parks.

“We are certainly seeing developers contemplating this area and this raises some red flags for us,” said Diana Umpierre, a Sierra Club Everglades Restoration Campaign organizing representative. “This is the perfect location to build more resiliency, particularly when there is momentum being made in Everglades restoration. We know (Miami-Dade) county has been eyeing this area for industrialization for some time, and all this indicates that they are pushing for commercialization of the (Homestead Air) Reserve Base. It’s concerning. This is an area nestled between two national parks and may affect restoration projects.”

Umpierre said developers have been using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to push projects along while government agencies are understaffed and overwhelmed and public participation has been down.

She said the proposed steel mill and technology district megaplex with heavy electricity and water consumption will only further deplete the Biscayne Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to the region, and overburden the unlined and ailing cooling canals at Florida Power and Light’s Turkey Point power plant.

Some of the development is proposed on agricultural land next to wetland protection zones that recharge the aquifer and sustain Biscayne National Park.

Last fall, the Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved a resolution to negotiate a “joint use agreement” with the U.S. Air Force for a “fixed-base operator,” which would allow certain civil operations at the military base, with some commissioners arguing that capacity at the Homestead Air Reserve Base is needed to meet expanding trade needs with Latin America and Africa and could cater to the super-wealthy Ocean Reef Club enclave in north Key Largo.

The proposed fixed-base operator, or FBO, could be used for general aviation activities such as corporate, private cabin class turbine jets, propeller aircraft and cabin class helicopters.

Even with a “general aviation services only” clause sponsored by then-commissioner and now Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, critics say commercial cargo traffic still could fly while scheduled commercial flights would be prohibited.

Environmentalists worry the base will become a major cargo hub for nearby FedEx facility, the Amazon Fulfillment Center now being built, the proposed South Dade Logistics and Technology District being reviewed by the state for construction outside the Urban Development Boundary and the proposed Esteel mill.

With a runway stretching 11,200 feet, the base is capable of handling some of the world’s largest aircraft.

About 20 years ago, citizens and environmentalists criticized Miami-Dade County’s plan to privatize a large portion of the reserve base for use as a major commercial airport and ultimately the Air Force prohibited the airport plan after a federal review.

At that time, the Ocean Reef Club also opposed the plan as in-bound and out-bound planes would have used air space over the private club.

“Initially, it was The Latin Builders Association who was trying to get the Homestead Air Reserve Base as a commercial hub,” said Islamorada Councilman Mark Gregg, who recently sponsored a village resolution to oppose the proposed megaplex development outside Miami-Dade’s Urban Development Boundary. “They ran into opposition, and they were not successful. I do know that an air reserve base is allowed to have shared use. It’s not hard to imagine this could happen with FedEx there and Amazon going in there.”

The Friends of the Everglades is alert to any outcomes that threaten the Air Force Record of Decision on the Homestead Air Reserve Base.

“According to a press report, the county is asking for 20,000 flight operations per year,” Alan Farago, who serves on the Friends board of directors, wrote in October 2020. “The public was surprised to learn that commissioners, the Miami-Dade Aviation Director and (then) Mayor (Carlos) Gimenez have already made ‘many’ visits to Washington, D.C. With the help of Sen. Marco Rubio, Dade officials met with the Secretary of the Air Force to discuss the air base.

“The commissioners and Mayor Gimenez did acknowledge significant ‘concern’ expressed by citizens. In the end, Mayor Gimenez offered his support for Cava’s friendly amendment: pass a resolution to support general aviation and argue about cargo later.”

Gimenez is now a U.S. congressman representing portions of Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys. His son, David Gimenez, is part of the executive team proposing to build the steel mill near the base.

tjava@keysnews.com


Crime
featured
Motorist arrested on drug charge

A 40-year-old Key Largo man was arrested on a drug charge earlier this week after he was reported driving recklessly.

Kristian David Demblans was charged with possessing marijuana. Multiple baggies containing white powder also found in the vehicle Demblans was driving are being sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement lab for testing.

Deputy Scott Costa was on patrol at approximately 6:31 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, when he received a report of a reckless driver traveling southbound on U.S. 1 near Tavernier Creek. A caller stated the driver of the Nissan Maxima struck a curb so hard, it caused the driver to hit his head against the window, cracking the window.

Deputy Costa spotted the Nissan and stopped it near Mile Marker 84 after observing it fail to maintain a lane. There was an odor of marijuana emanating from the car. A search turned up marijuana, multiple baggies and a straw, all containing white powder, a glass pipe, three hypodermic needles and a large number other small baggies commonly used to store and sell narcotics.

Demblans was taken to jail, but was released without bond.

Demblans was released from state prison in 2018 after conviction on a litany of drug charges. He was arrested in 2020 for DUI and 2019 on drug charges. Demblans’ twin brother, Adrian, is currently serving a 10-year sentence for his accessory role in a double homicide in Tavernier in 2015.

Convicted murderer Jeremy Macauley attempted to implicate the Demblans brothers in the murders of Carlos Ortiz, 30, and Tara Rosado, 26, as part of his defense.

Drug trafficking continues to be a major problem in the Florida Keys. Late last week, a 66-year-old Key West man was arrested for possessing a large amount of fentanyl.

Uthon Lee Sloan was charged with trafficking an opium derivative.

Deputy Ty Torres stopped a blue Jeep Cherokee southbound on U.S. 1 on Big Pine Key at approximately 6:25 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 21, for speeding.

Sloan stated there was nothing illegal in his vehicle and gave consent to search. Sloan became nervous and admitted there was a blue sweatshirt inside the vehicle that contained drugs.

A plastic grocery bag was found in the sweatshirt containing 28.4 grams of fentanyl.

Sloan was taken to jail, where he was being held on $200,000 bond.


Community
Vaccination events upcoming in Keys

The State of Florida and multiple organizations in Monroe County have been hosting community COVID-19 vaccination events throughout the Floriday Keys in October.

The final event of the month is set for Thursday, Oct. 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hawks Cay Resort, 61 Hawks Cay Blvd., Duck Key. Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccinations will be available. Additionally, booster shots will be available for all three vaccines at the event.

The event is open to the public; no appointments needed. Those age 12-17 desiring the Pfizer vaccine must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Vaccinations are also available at a variety of retail pharmacies throughout the Keys, including Publix, Winn-Dixie, CVS and Walgreens. To check stock, type of vaccine available and additional details at the retail pharmacies, visit http://www.vaccines.gov.

For information on vaccinations and COVID-19 testing sites and locations, visit http://www.monroe.floridahealth.gov/vax.


News
U.S. 1 Radio listing

Fantasy Fest is well underway, but what has it been like for Key West Police? Chief Sean Brandenberg gives News Director Joe Moore and Chuck Thomas an update.

Also on Morning Magazine,

• Michelle Coldiron, Monroe County Mayor

• Ana Maria Rodriguez, State Senator

• Kerry Shelby, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Executive Director

• Trevor Wofsey, Marathon City Council candidate

• Carlos Gimenez, U.S. Congressman

• Lance Martin, Marathon High School Athletic Director

• Andy Newman, Tourist Development Council spokesman

On Evening Edition, host Ron Saunders talks with State Attorney Dennis Ward


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