An ecologist with the environmental group Last Stand contends an area of bay bottom Fury Water Adventures wants to lease is not devoid of life and the state should not issue the lease for the watersports company.
Last Stand is challenging the lease that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to issue to Fury.
In June, the DEP issued a notice of intent to issue the lease. The notice states kayaks and watersports toys will be "moored in an 11,436 square foot area that does not contain benthic resources including seagrass beds and corals."
Peter Frezza, an ecologist with Audubon's Tavernier Science Center, dived the potential leased area on July 17. Frezza, who was not paid for his work, issued a report that states the area does include large sections of turtle grass, sponges and soft corals.
Frezza is not taking a side in the issue and only documented that the bay bottom there was not devoid of life, he said.
The area has "very healthy, robust turtle grass," Frezza told The Citizen on Friday. There are also sponges and octocorals, he said. Frezza said he also saw several large spiny lobsters using loggerhead sponges as habitat.
"It's definitely not void of life," Frezza said. "It has moderate to dense beds of turtle grass."
Last Stand has filed a petition for a state administrative hearing, in which it will ask for denial of the lease that would allow Fury to place two floating vessel platforms, and permanently moor three floating, inflatable water toys, west of Wisteria Island.
"Fury Management Inc. has not shown that this lease is clearly in the public interest," Last Stand board member George Halloran wrote in a prepared statement.
"Establishing an off-site entertainment destination where Fury customers will operate jet skis and climb on inflatable water toys will interfere with the primary purpose of the area for the proposed lease.
"This area, which is adjacent to the Key West Wildlife Refuge, is to be managed to maintain essentially natural conditions, for the propagation of fish and wildlife and traditional recreational uses such as fishing, boating and swimming."
If Last Stand's complaint constitutes a "sufficient petition," it will be forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings and assigned to an administrative law judge, DEP spokesman Terry Cerullo said.
Fury wants to lease 11,436 square feet of bay bottom for five years, according to the deal. The company would be allowed to place "a floating vessel platform for 10 Jet Skis and floating platform for 10 kayaks associated with a permanently moored registered vessel and inflatable water toys," the lease agreement states.
In exchange, Fury would pay the state $2,289 upfront, which includes an annual fee of $1,831 it would have to pay for the subsequent four years, the lease states.
Now, state law allows watersports operators to bring such equipment out on the water and then remove it daily.
Fury owner Scott Saunders said he could not comment on the issue in case it becomes litigious.
In the past, he has argued that keeping the platforms out there would be less damaging to the environment, as because the company would not have to repeatedly drop anchor and move the large equipment.
Personal watercraft trips would be contained to a "small contained area" accompanied by two guides to keep them out of the neighboring wildlife refuge and other environmentally sensitive areas, he said.
The personal watercraft trips would be limited to 10 to 12 minutes, as there is a giant slide. climbing wall and other activities available, Saunders said.
He said he met with Last Stand's board earlier this year to try to ease its concerns.
The lease agreement states that Fury would be required to "work with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Key West Wildlife Refuge to provide an educational program for the patrons on the Fury catamaran."
"The educational program shall provide information regarding the importance of the marine environment including seagrass, mangroves, algae, marine turtles, manatees, corals, whales and fishes," the lease states.