Past Articles on the Beach Vessel Exclusion Zone
August 13, 2020
At a specially called meeting of the Islamorada Village Council on August 12, 2020, Members heard from over 40 people who spoke both for and against excluding boats from the waters off White Marlin and Port Antigua. In the end, the Council Members voted 5 – 0 to implement a 300-foot restricted area from the shore.
Some speakers offered alternative proposals, one of which was a “Beach Ambassador” program which would have members of the community approaching loud or misbehaving people on the Beach, in the water, or on their boats and politely ask them to stop. This was met with some reluctance on the part of the Council Members who were concerned about the safety of the volunteers and their effectiveness. Private security was also suggested as was increased law enforcement. Increased law enforcement, given budgetary constraints, was not an option for the Council.
Behavior on the waters off the Port Antigua beach has been an ongoing issue for the past seven or eight years, and has only worsened with the advent of social media sites that advertise the area a fantastic party spot. The PAPOA Board had been inundated with comments from its members demanding some sort of action, and more recently with comments that the Villages’ proposal was too restrictive. The Board used a methodical approach to the problem, first sending out a survey to get the sense of the membership and then developing a proposal that it hoped the Village would adopt. The PAPOA proposal which entailed a buffer zone between the beach and the idle-speed demarcation gained significant support from the Membership as evidenced by a second survey. This proposal was rejected by the Village in favor of a broader vessel exclusion zone (VEZ) that had been proposed by others. The PAPOA Board decided that sufficient membership support existed for it to endorse the Village’s proposal.
After hearing good arguments from both sides of the issue, the Council took the side of those for a VEZ, citing safety taking precedence over any other issue. Mr. Sante suggested that the Council should implement a “pilot” program, but since the future Councils have the authority to revisit the VEZ, the other Council Members deemed such a program unnecessary. Mr. Davis commented that he would be in favor of a pilot program only if the option at its end was to push the zone to 400 feet. Ms. Gillis suggested that the PAPOA needed to continue to provide security and that the Ambassador program would be hard to do. Mr. Mooney lamented that this had been going on for six years, and life safety had to take precedence. Finally, Mayor Forster showed a picture that appears on a popular social media site that shows numerous boats off the Port Antigua and commented that this beach had become the go to spot in the Keys.
While most of us regret the loss of the “unrestricted” beach access that we have now, the fact that to get to the beach may involve threading one’s way through an obstacle course of sometimes drunk, loud, and obnoxious people really limits our members’ use of the beach. When this is coupled with the offshore behavior, there was a situation in which some members of PAPOA were unable to use their own beach at all.
This action of the Village Council will not completely solve the problem, but it is a first step and one that the Board of Directors will have to build on to regain control of “our” property.
Vessel Exclusion Zone Meeting Held with Property Owners
August 2, 2020
A meeting via Zoom was held on July 31 between the Port Antigua Property Owners’ Association (PAPOA), represented by President David Webb and Mr. David Rogel, Esq., and the group describing themselves as the Port Antigua Homeowners (PAH), represented by Rick Hoskins, Lee Ramirez, Alejandro Brito, Mel Freyre, Martin Pico, and Paul Savage, Esq.. Several PAPOA Board members listened in but did not participate in the meeting.
The PAPOA finally received a previously requested draft document, after the meeting began, that outlined several proposals the PAH believes will adequately address the chaos at the beach. The main feature of their presentation was a roll back of the vessel exclusion/swim zone to 150 feet including the beach’s adjacent to Sandy Point and White Marlin. Most property owners know this area is virtually dry land during certain tide stages. The PAPOA recommendation to the Village was a 250-foot buffer area which remains our preferred solution. The Village discarded that proposal for a 300-foot outer limit favored by some residents and law enforcement representatives. Among the group’s other proposals were flags to identify Port Antigua residents/vessels and cards that would be distributed by Beach Ambassadors (property owner volunteers) to boaters and beach goers who were violating yet to be enacted Village noise ordinances or causing other disturbances. The PAH also recommended that the PAPOA hire private security guards in lieu of Deputies to enforce beach entrance restrictions and confront trespassers, calling on-duty MCSO Deputies if they were met with resistance. The PAH also stated they will petition the Village to cancel the special council meeting scheduled for August 12, 2020.
The PAPOA Board feels that further discussion of the group’s proposals that are within the purview of the Association is warranted but remains committed to a vessel exclusion zone that will actually afford a substantial reduction in the number of boats at the sand bar.
It has been clear since the failed swim zone effort in 2014 there would be no solution to the sand bar issues that all property owners would support. The PAPOA represents all Port Antigua property owners, and while the 300-foot swim zone was not our community’s first choice, over 80% of respondents to our surveys stated that something must be done. Further, over 60% supported a swim zone at 250 feet which PAH refuses to support at this time.
The PAPOA has previously proposed a 250-foot swim zone and invites the PAH to support the consensus of our property owners and endorse that proposal. This action on the part of the PAH may cause the Village to reconsider. The PAPOA looks forward to the Village council supporting the citizenry of White Marlin, Sandy Point and Port Antigua with an affirmative vote for the swim zone August 12th. Please contact the Village to give them your thoughts on this important issue and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.
For the PAPOA Board
The second reading of a proposed Village ordinance to restrict vessel traffic within 300 feet of the White Marlin and Port Antigua shorelines was tabled at the July 16th Council Meeting. Heated comments were made from both sides of the issue, with some objecting about having their “rights” to access the beach via the water taken away while others objected to having their “rights” to peace having already been taken away. The lawyers are now engaged, and the issue will likely be discussed at a separate, specially called Council meeting. In the meantime, the Association continues its efforts to find a solution that, while not optimum for both sides, will be at least palatable.
The number of people and boats in the Keys and Port Antigua has increased markedly over the past few years. Coupled with better enforcement of the Whale Harbor (TIKI) sandbar and other gathering spots, our beach has become a prime destination for boaters looking to party. There are anecdotal stories of Members watching boat after boat coming through bowlegs to the north and from Long Key to the south to the waters off our beach, throwing out an anchor, and then wading ashore.
The problem at the beach worsened considerably last summer which prompted the PAPOA Board of Directors to try to identify the extent of the problem as well as to determine possible solutions. Costly security patrols were increased, which helped, but a better solution is needed.
While there was a diversity of opinions, the September 2019 survey indicated that a large majority of the Members were in favor of “doing something.” At the February 2020 Village Council meeting, several individual property owners complained about the problem, and the sense of the Council was that some action was warranted. President Dave asked for time to develop a proposal that, while not ideal, might be acceptable to the majority of Port Antigua residents. The PAPOA Board of Directors developed and made a compromise proposal to the Village to place a swim zone “buffer” area between the shoreline and the anchorage. After studying this proposal and considering the enforcement requirements, Village officials decided that a 300 foot vessel exclusion zone, or swim area, would be the best way to approach the issue.
Photo courtesy of Sue Miller
At the June 18th Village Council meeting, the White Marlin/Port Antigua issue was discussed. Council Members heard comments from both sides, those who want the proposal to pass and those who want the status quo. There are even people who want more stringent restrictions on the beach, pushing the anchorage out further than 300 feet. After much discussion, the proposal unanimously passed its first of two required readings. If it passes its second reading which will be scheduled at a special meeting, the Village will get permits, buy the signage and lines and establish the area.
This has understandably been a divisive topic among many of our Members. We have people on one hand who enjoy taking their boats to the beach and letting the kids splash and swim around them. On the other hand, we have those who have been accosted and threatened on their own property and some who refuse to take their children to the beach because doing so would expose them to behaviors that are best not witnessed by the kids. It comes down to respecting the safety and rights of others. Unfortunately, there are people who refuse to do that and have caused the Village to respond with these proposed restrictions.
Check the Property Owners’ page for a copy of the June 17th email sent to the membership on this topic.
A proposal was submitted to the Village outlining the PAPAO’s recommendation. To see a copy of the letter that was sent to the membership, go to the Property Owners‘ page, and it is the first item under “Documents.” You can’t miss it. We have put some questions/answers on a special webpage to further explain this rather fluid and difficult situation. You will be able to print a one page copy of the Q&A’s there.
The responses from the second beach survey on these proposals have been tabulated. To see the results, go to the “Property Owners‘” page, scroll down to the Survey Results heading and select “Beach Survey #2.”
The three possible solutions the Board considered were to do nothing, to shut the waterfront down to all vessel traffic from the shore to 300 feet out, and to develop a compromise between these two extremes.
Option 1. Doing nothing was discounted because the situation has deteriorated to the point of jet skis and other boats running at high speeds inside the 300 foot no-wake zone and some trespassers behaving very badly, even assaulting some of the residents who asked them to leave the private property they were on. It has become a safety and liability issue for both the POA and the Village and something must be done.
Option 2. A no vessel (swim) area from the shoreline to 300 feet offshore was proposed by the Village in 2013-2014 and met overwhelming opposition. This would solve some of the problems that we have encountered but, since the offshore waters are public areas, it would equally impact Port Antigua residents. It is simply impossible to only allow our residents access to those waters while excluding the general public.
Option 3. The great compromise was developed by the Board to allow some vessel access to the beach while protecting those residents who wish to swim, lounge and play in the water. It limits the room for “party boats” to anchor, hopefully cutting down on the annoying music and noise. While the Board recognizes this solution is not ideal, it represents the best compromise. See the copy of the proposal the membership received via the USPS mail. Also see diagrams showing Option 2 and Option 3 by clicking on them or on the picture.
The Board asks for your support for this compromise as it begins to address the most onerous conditions at the beach in a manner that, hopefully, we all can live with.