ISLAMORADA -- The Monroe County Sheriff's Office plans to beef up its presence at a popular raft-up party spot located just yards off the private beach of three Lower Matecumbe Key neighborhoods.
Speaking to the Village Council last Thursday, Sheriff's Office Capt. Corey Bryan announced he would have both of the marine officers assigned to the village on the water on alternating Saturdays through the rest of the summer. Typically, only one marine officer patrols village waters at a time.
The increase, while minimal, is one part of a newly announced village strategy to discourage revelers from congregating at the approximately half-mile stretch of sandy bay bottom just off the Port Antigua, Sandy Point and White Marlin Beach neighborhoods.
The new attention aside, Bryan informed the council that the revelers generally haven't been involved in significant infractions.
"The officers are not telling me that there are lots of violations or anything," he said.
But supported by the council, Bryan said his officers will now be instructed to be proactive in enforcing boater safety laws, including requirements to carry life vests and flares, as well as boating under the influence.
"Enforce things that make people realize that this is no fun being here," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said. "... I hate to use the word harassment, but you know, it might be an easier way to go."
The measures to be implemented at the Lower Matecumbe party zone come after an aggressive push last week by the residents of the three adjacent neighborhoods. The president of each of the neighborhood's associations, as well as the president of the Lower Matecumbe Key Association, signed a letter asking for increased restrictions that was sent to the Village Council, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The area in question has long been a spot where partiers have congregated, but residents say the crowd has increased rapidly since two years ago, when maybe 30 or 40 boats would descend upon the sand flat just a couple hundred feet off their beach on holiday weekends.
In contrast, White Marlin resident Martin Moe counted 187 boats during the Saturday of the recent July 4th weekend. He estimated that some 1,000 people manned the boats.
The result, residents say, is lots of trash, anchor damage to the bay bottom, and presumably, plenty of people doing what beer drinkers who don't have access to a bathroom do.
Noise, too, is a major concern.
"You haven't lived until you hear rap, reggae and country music all blended together in one ear-splitting decibel level on your porch," said Mike McLoad, who lives along the Port Antigua portion of the beach.
In their letter, the neighborhood associations said they'd like to see no-motor and no-anchor zones implemented inside 300 feet for most of the Lower Matecumbe bayside.
But those issues didn't gain significant traction at the Village Council and the Sanctuary Advisory Council meetings last week. At the village meeting, Councilman Mike Forster said the matter needs to be addressed, but only as a formal agenda item in which all stakeholders would have fair warning. On days when the partiers aren't present, the flats off White Marlin, Sandy Point and Port Antigua are a renowned bonefishing ground, he added.
"With me, it's all about enforcement first before we make new regulations," Forster said.
At the sanctuary meeting, a shallow water working group created to help develop a new general management plan has already submitted recommendations for sandbar closures off Rodriguez Key in Key Largo and off Tavernier Creek. But the group's work is done, unless the Sanctuary Advisory Council re-tasks it.
At the Advisory Council's meeting on July 9, members discussed the Lower Matecumbe issue but took no action. The council could still revise the working group's recommendation to include a closure off the bayside of Lower Matecumbe, however.