Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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State ignores village's wishes about boat ramp

ISLAMORADA -- The Florida Department of Transportation has turned down a request by the village to restrict parking along the Indian Key and Tea Table fills, which connect Upper and Lower Matcumbe keys.

Meanwhile, the village remains at odds with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission over the commission's push to improve the Indian Key Fill boat ramp.

The FWC wants to eliminate the simple earthen ramp that is used by boaters who launch from the fill and to replace it with a paved ramp, as well as a dock, slightly further north on the fill. The move, says the FWC, would increase boater access and set the stage for a shoreline stabilization project.

The village, however, contends that a better ramp would exacerbate traffic safety and maintenance concerns along the fill, especially during busy summer months. Furthermore, it says FWC's proposal is inadequate when it comes to parking improvements, bathrooms and sanitation facilities.

The dispute over the fill, which provides the roadbed for U.S. 1, is a jurisdictionally complicated one. FDOT owns the highway and the rest of the land, but the village maintains the shoulder and parking areas under an interlocal agreement. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection controls submerged lands and FWC controls the water.

FDOT's latest salvo, turning down the village request for more parking restrictions, came in a Nov. 29 email from Traffic Operations Analyst Joaquin de la Cruz to Assistant Public Works Director Lesli Wojtecki.

"After careful consideration of all possible scenarios, our department recommended to remain the existing conditions," de la Cruz wrote.

In an interview, Islamorada Public Works Director John Sutter said the village had asked permission to post a handful of "no parking" signs in selected areas where he says vehicles are doing damage to the bicycle path, the shoulder and shoreline.

"Particularly in the summer, it has become a free-for-all down there," he said.

In his email, de la Cruz explained that one reason for the transportation department's decision to oppose further parking restrictions is that FDOT is currently reviewing the FWC proposal to improve the boat ramp.

That caught Sutter by surprise, since the village and FWC last communicated over the issue in May, with the town expressing its opposition to the plan. The village also opposed a previous FWC proposal put forward last fall.

In an interview last Friday, FWC Boating Access Coordinator Pat Harrell said his agency hasn't taken any further action on the ramp proposal since that May meeting. As long as the village is opposed, she said, moving forward is impractical.

"The Corps won't proceed with the permit," she said of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the authorizing agency for construction in wetlands and along shorelines.

But she hedged a bit, saying that the FWC would still like to push ahead if it obtains the backing of FDOT.

"We want to have boat access. That's our mission," she said.

In its May presentation, the FWC proposed a 40-foot dock to accompany the paved boat ramp. The plan also called for 12 to 14 paved boat trailer spaces and five regular parking spaces, in addition to shoreline stabilization to ward off erosion. Restroom facilities would be in the form of portable toilets, Harrell said.

Sutter, though, said the village opposes portable toilets, both esthetically and because they would be insufficient to handle the Indian Key Fill crowds. The number of parking spaces proposed by FWC would also be far from adequate, he added. And the dock would be a navigational hazard for boaters.

The village, Sutter said, wants people to have water access at Indian Key Fill, but even with the existing put-in, clean up after a summer weekend often takes days.

"You can't just build a nice ramp and attract a lot of people and not address what those people will bring," he said.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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