Key Largo Liveaboards Beg to Keep Access

Reluctant to evict the solid citizens of the Tarpon Basin liveaboard community because of a few scofflaws, Monroe County, FL commissioners decided Wednesday to seek more law enforcement.

It was a problem that cropped up literally in the commission’s own back yard, the bayfront park behind the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center at mile marker 102.5.

“We’ve had people showering naked next to the dumpster. People bathing in the fountain, naked,” county Building Official Jerry Smith told the commission. “We deal with this on a daily basis.”

Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said the small park once attracted sunset-watchers and children’s parties. Efforts were made to accommodate a number of well-behaved boaters who started using a small dock at the site to tie their dinghies.

“We were very good to the people who live on the hook out there,” Murphy said. “For two and a half years, it was wonderful. Then all of a sudden, a different quality began to take place.”

Now the park has been overrun by a small group of sketchy characters who create anxiety among visitors and county staff, she contended.

“We provided a heck of a lot and a heck of a good deal. In return, we get mouth and curse words,” Murphy said. “People come to watch the sunset and because of the language, they go away with a sour taste in their mouth and don’t come back.”

Several boaters who rely on the government-center property for shore access appealed for the county to oust the “bad apples” before banning everybody from the dock.

“The undesirables showed up when you closed other areas” used for liveaboard landing spots, said James Chapman. “You pushed them to us.”

He added, “They’re mostly gone now because they were arrested or their boats sunk.”

Murphy agreed the boaters who attended the Wednesday session “are the good ones. You’re not the problem, and you can’t solve it,” she said. “I don’t know what else we can do, except close off the dock to dinghies.”

“If you choose to close this off, you’re saying Key Largo is a town and island that is inaccessible by the water,” said liveaboard Chadwick Acevedo, married and employed. “What kind of island has no water access for the public?”

The boaters describe themselves as working locally for modest wages or retirees living a fixed income. Local marinas are too expensive, they said.

County Mayor George Neugent, a former liveaboard, said the proposed ordinance to curtail use of the park “gives me heartburn.”

“Everything you cited, I feel can be addressed with rules, regulations and a mooring field,” Neugent said. “We live in a boating-friendly community…. I’m not sure how we keep people from using a public facility.”

The government center, opened in 2009, “was designed for people coming here to do business with the county,” Commissioner Danny Kolhage said. “Not people coming in from a mooring field.”

Commissioner David Rice and Neugent said the situation reminds them of Boot Key Harbor in Marathon before a regulated mooring field was established. But there is no money in the county budget to create and staff a new mooring field in Tarpon Basin, Murphy and Kolhage said.

“Maybe we need to accelerate some plans for that kind of facility,” Rice said. “I’m not sure [the Nelson center] is proper place to do that…. I see long-term solutions; I don’t see a short-term solution.”

Neugent said he would speak with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office about an increased law-enforcement presence at the government center, which has a small work area for deputies.

No vote was taken on the dock closing.

Courtesy of www.keysnet.com

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