A Florida Keys environmental group has been granted more time to challenge a watersports company's proposed state bay-bottom lease near Key West Harbor.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has given Last Stand until Thursday to file a petition challenging Fury Water Adventures' request to lease 11,436 square feet of bay bottom in Pearl Basin for five years.
The state issued a "notice of intent to lease" last month, which gave the public two weeks to appeal the state's decision. After the notice went out, Last Stand notified DEP that it planned to appeal.
If Last Stand files a "sufficient petition for administrative hearing" by July 26, it will be forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings and assigned to an administrative law judge, DEP spokesman Terry Cerullo said.
An attorney for Last Stand is working on the appeal, Last Stand board member George Halloran said.
"We plan to show that such a lease is not in the public interest, and therefore would be illegal and improper and would set a dangerous precedent in the Florida Keys," Halloran said.
"To our knowledge, no such leases have ever been granted by the state of Florida, and this one could lead to dozens more up and down the Florida Keys. ...
"What is the point in calling the nearshore waters of the Keys a '(National Marine) Sanctuary' for wildlife and natural resources if we are going to lease it out for high-intensity human activities?" he asked rhetorically.
"It is one thing to rent a personal watercraft from the shore, where refueling and storage and take place safely. It is quite another thing to lease public property in the flats half a mile from Key West and ferry customers out there to zoom around for half a day in the shallows," Halloran said.
Fury owner Scott Saunders contends his customers will not be "zooming around the shallows" but in a "small contained area" accompanied by two guides to keep them out of the neighboring wildlife refuge and other environmentally sensitive areas.
The personal watercraft trips will be limited to 10 to 12 minutes, as there is a giant slide and climbing wall and other activities available, he said. The personal watercraft tours are to be in water at least 4 feet deep and in areas with sandy bottom, void of seagrass.
"We are containing the customers so they are not zooming around everywhere," Saunders said.
Also, the lease stipulates no refueling of personal watercraft is allowed there.
Saunders said he met with Last Stand's board earlier this year to ease its concerns.
"I think there is a lot of misinformation out there," he said.
Fury would 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 will have to pay for the subsequent four years, the lease states.
The agreement says 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.