ISLAMORADA -- The Village Council last week weighed in against an Everglades National Park proposal to close nearly a third of Florida Bay to combustible motors, beating the National Park Service's May 12 deadline to formally comment on the plan.
"From a charter boat standpoint, it was devastating what they were really proposing," Councilman Dave Purdo, himself still an occasional backcountry fishing guide, said before the May 9 vote.
The Park Service has been on the defensive in the Upper Keys since releasing the proposal in late February as the latest step in the now 10-year-old process of developing a General Management Plan to guide park governance for the next two decades or more.
It would establish a network of pole/troll zones designed to protect flats and seagrass beds from boat groundings and propeller scars. The pole/troll areas were identified because they are 2 feet deep or less.
But guides and business organizations throughout the Upper Keys have chafed that the no-combustible-motor zones would be devastating to the local flats fishing industry and, therefore, to the Upper Keys economy at large.
The council's resolution, which passed unanimously, incorporated the public comments that the Islamorada-based Florida Key Fishing Guides Association had already submitted to the Park Service.
Among other things, the guides association called for more channels through the flats to be left open to motorists than the park service has suggested -- a move that would speed navigation to and from key fishing grounds. The association, and now the village, also suggested the creation of pole/troll/idle speed zones instead of just pole/troll zones for the areas where new restrictions are proposed.
With the public comment period now over, the General Management Plan will once again be reviewed by administrators at Everglades National Park and at the Park Service's regional planning office in Atlanta. The final plan is slated for release next year.
Everglades Superintendent Dan Kimball has already said the Park Service should do a scientific review of whether trolling motors are more or less harmful to the flats than combustible motors used at idle speeds.
During an April 10 meeting at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center in Key Largo, Kimball also signaled that a controversial proposal to turn Long Sound, in northeast Florida Bay, into a paddle-only zone is already on the way out.
Budgetary shortfalls are also likely to slow any efforts to transform bay management.
Everglades officials estimate that the cost of managing the 1.5-million-acre park under the plan they proposed in February would be $22 million annually, up $5 million from the budget that was in effect until the 5.1 percent federal sequester began in March.
The plan proposes a broad swath of changes throughout the park, not just in Florida Bay.
Start-up expenses are another issue. They would amount to an estimated $36 million for the construction of facilities, such as a new visitor center in Everglades City and improvements at the park's Key Largo science center. Another $4 million would be needed for educational outreach, including starting a Florida Bay boater permit system and putting additional markers in the bay.
In other action last week, the council gave final approval to an ordinance that would require lenders to register foreclosure properties with the village as well as pay a $200 annual fee. Melbourne-based Federal Property Registration Corp. will administer the program and take half of the registration fees as its payment.
Also on May 9, the council voted unanimously to settle a lawsuit between the village and Gary and Jeanne Zaret. The deal recognized the Zarets' south Plantation Key property as a live-aboard marina.
Finally, the council voted unanimously to again award 15,561 square feet of development rights to developer Net Five-FDA for a proposed mile marker 81 Winn-Dixie.
Net Five representative Eric Halter assured council members there would be no repeat of what happened in February, when the company had to give up its building allocations under financial duress.
The financing, Halter, said is now in place.
"We fully intend to develop the project," he said.