KEY LARGO -- Without an anchorage in Key Largo, many liveaboard residents have turned to unmanaged mooring fields, including one behind the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, mile marker 102, bayside.
The government center has become a desirable locale for those who live on sailboats because it includes outdoor picnic tables, a boat dock, outside restrooms, free wireless Internet service and public parking.
But as far as some county officials are concerned, the days of Tarpon Basin liveaboards docking their dinghies at the center to enjoy such rent-free amenities may be coming to an end.
Concerned by loitering and alcohol consumption at the Nelson center, County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy is proposing to place the center under park rule.
That would make it illegal for boats, other than kayaks, to launch from the center or tie up there. It would also prevent the consumption of alcohol on the property and implement park hours, which would eliminate overnight parking.
A decision on the proposal is expected to be made during the County Commission meeting Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Nelson center. Signs have been posted about the meeting on parts of the property where the liveaboards congregate, but Murphy said she hasn't got any feedback in her office.
Murphy said the government center is beginning to act almost like a liveaboard marina, without the proper resources.
"We don't have showers for these people," she said.
Murphy said the park will continue to cater to paddlers, and in the future, she hopes to make the shoreline more kayak-friendly.
Some liveaboards behind the Nelson center recently moored their boats about 3 miles to the south off of Bay View Drive. But public access to the water there was closed when the county erected a temporary fence due to complaints from the Bayside Inn, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and neighboring residents about loitering, noise and excessive drinking. Months later, the fence still stands.
One possibility for a managed mooring field is the nearshore waters off Key Largo's Point of View RV Resort.
"We've been trying to get that done now for a while," said Jim Saunders, who developed the bayside resort.
A county consultant recently issued a report to the Marine and Port Advisory Committee recommeding three possible sites for a managed mooring field with shore-side services, pumpout and other amenities. The sites include Jewfish Creek and Buttonwood Bay in Key Largo and Boca Chica Basin off Stock Island.
The county set aside $250,000 in boater improvement funds last year that could be used to create at least one mooring field.