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Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
County last in line for conservancy's money

KEY LARGO -- The county appears to be last in line for recovering money from a troubled local marine mammal rehabilitation facility.

The Monroe County Commission met in closed session last month to discuss an ongoing legal dispute with Marine Mammal Conservancy regarding unpaid code enforcement fines. The county, though, appears to be the least of MMC's worries, according to one of the county's leaders.

Before the non-profit organization settles unpaid code fines with the county, it first must deal with its own debt issues with the owner of the Key Largo property where it is based.

"We will be the last to see any money," county Mayor Sylvia Murphy said last week.

Murphy referred questions to Monroe County Attorney Bob Shillinger, who did not respond to a Free Press inquiry before press time.

The rescue and rehab group has racked up $580,350 in county fines after a series of code enforcement violations were discovered in 2011 relating to electric wires and illegal construction.

In May, the county commission reduced the nonprofit group's fines to $59,000, but after learning the facility wasn't entirely forthcoming, the county reinstituted the full amount.

The commission first learned that MMC hasn't been able to perform its mission in rehabilitating marine mammals due to a temporary ban on housing stranded animals, which is part of a federal effort to stop the spread of the deadly moribilivirus that has killed bottlenose dolphins along the Atlantic coast.

"It could just be a few months, but we have no idea," Murphy said of the duration of the ban. "We didn't know anything about it. If there was a stranding today or tomorrow, they couldn't do anything about it."

The county next found out that it had been named in a foreclosure action filed by the property owner against MMC on May 20, just before the commission voted to reduce MMC's fines.

Since the foreclosure action describes the county as a junior stakeholder, it may not get reimbursed for outstanding fines since the mortgage holder is first in line for any money from MMC.

MMC board chairman Robert Coakley has not responded to repeated Free Press attempts for comment.

jgore@keysnews.com

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