Florida Keys News
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
They're here in full force
Crews pick up trash as spring breakers party at beaches

Spring break crowds have lulled in recent years compared to the mobs of the 1990s when MTV broadcasted from Key West.

But the recent sight of trash-strewn beaches has rankled locals and caused some city leaders to ask for the return of a special court that forced young scofflaws to clean up after themselves.

"What we used to do when they caught underage drinkers, we made them clean up the mess," said District 3 City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, adding that he's seen the recent pictures of the Smathers Beach mess. "I think it could solve some of our issues now."

The trash left behind on Smathers Beach is greater this year than in those years following the throngs of the 1990s, said District 4 City Commissioner Tony Yaniz, whose district includes Smathers Beach.

"I believe all of us have a responsibility to the island and this issue," Yaniz said. "I've had conversations with [Director of Community Services] Greg Veliz and [Police Chief] Donie Lee and I know both are being proactive in their efforts out there."

Yaniz suggested that perhaps he could form an ad-hoc committee prior to spring break next year to discuss options, such as signs alerting beachgoers of the rules and asking them to be good stewards.

"Maybe signs that say, 'This is your beach,'" Yaniz said. "Let's make the problem part of the solution."

The city doesn't have the resources to police the problem away, Yaniz added.

Cleaning crews come from EE G, the company with the city contract to clean the restrooms and beach at Smathers numerous times throughout the day, said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

Last week and this week are the busiest weeks for spring breakers, she added. Ten portable toilets have also been installed.

The beaches are cleaned at the end of the day and then raked for seaweed as well as trash in the morning, Crean said.

In prior years, if an offending youth was caught committing some misdemeanor crime such as having an open container, they could elect to enter the special spring break court.

That usually meant they donned a jail jumpsuit and cleaned the beach for however long deemed necessary by the judge and left Key West with the possibility that their permanent record wouldn't be marred.

Spring break court has not been in place for a number of years mainly due to the apparent lack of need or high arrest numbers, but that could always change, State Attorney Catherine Vogel said.

Vogel met with Key West Police prior to spring break this year and they didn't expect any outstanding issues, she said.

"Underage drinking issues and other similar investigations associated with spring break are not the same from year to year," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Manny Madruga, adding that those numbers must be high enough to deem spring break court a necessity.

There had been some discussion about bringing the special court back, but nothing has been formalized as defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, clerks and other court workers have to be online prior to spring break, both prosecutors said.

"It was vetted this year, but we would absolutely be open to it in the future if that was something that city commissioners and others wanted," Vogel said.

Spring break students tend to avoid Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, said officials.

"Now's the time to start thinking about next year," Yaniz said.


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