ISLAMORADA -- As promised, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office has begun ratcheting up enforcement in the Florida Bay sand flats off the Port Antigua, Sandy Point and White Marlin Beach neighborhoods.
But the moves are causing discontent on both sides of the debate.
During the weekend of July 19 to 21, officers issued five citations at the half-mile stretch of coastal water, which in recent years has developed into a popular raft-up party spot for boaters.
Three of the citations were for no-wake-zone violations, one was for a violation of boater identification requirements and one was issued to a boater who didn't have a flare aboard.
The enhanced enforcement comes with the support of the Village Council. But the drivers of the new approach are the homeowners associations in the effected neighborhoods. A few weeks ago they began an aggressive outreach campaign in response to the growing number of weekend revelers who anchor along the sand flats just a few dozen yards from the private beach shared by Port Antigua, Sandy Point and White Marlin Beach.
Last week, representatives of those associations, as well as some of the homeowners along the beach, made their second appearance in as many Village Council meetings to push for a 300-foot no-motor zone off their shoreline. However, they were rebuffed by council members, who said they had received a flood of emails on the issue, with approximately half of them expressing opposition to a no-motor zone.
In one such email, Port Antigua resident Amy Sargent said her family enjoys visiting the beach by boat. The push for the no-motor zone, she said, had been made by the Port Antigua Property Owners Association board without consulting the broader neighborhood.
"This has been a frequent problem in the past with this board, but now, I believe, they have gone too far," Sargent wrote.
At the meeting, council members said they'll continue with tighter enforcement before considering any new laws.
To back that policy, the village has tentatively budgeted $60,000 next year for an additional marine patrol officer in waters off Lower Matecumbe as well as the remainder of Islamorada.
But the enhanced enforcement won't only be an inconvenience to visiting revelers. Sheriff's Capt. Corey Bryan says he has instructed his officers to treat everyone the same. And one White Marlin Beach family has already felt the impact.
On consecutive days during the weekend of July 20, Giovanni Jiovenetta, 19, and his mother, Debra, were cited for using a personal watercraft without a boater identification card and for a no-wake zone violation, respectively.
Joe Jiovenetta said his son was one of several watercraft users who officers approached under their new direction to look for routine boating infractions. When he didn't have an ID he was cited without a warning. Joe said his wife was given her no-wake violation because she slowed to the proper speed immediately after passing the no-wake buoy at the entrance to Port Antigua, rather than immediately before.
He said he's sympathetic to the efforts to control the partying out on the flats, but he still feels his family fell victim to an abrupt change in enforcement philosophy.
"I guess they have to go a little overboard to get everyone's attention, and they did," Joe said.
However, others are prepared to deal with any drawbacks.
"If the local property owners are not boating responsibly, if they get a citation, then maybe they will boat responsibly in the future," said White Marlin resident Martin Moe, who has been vocal about the need to curb the parties.
Moe said he counted approximately 50 boats anchored in the sand flats near his neighborhood on Sunday, July 21. His count on the Saturday of the July 4th weekend was 187.