The city's historic seaport will soon have a new policy aimed at enforcing the long established law that live-aboards in the Key West mooring field have their boats regularly serviced for sewage pump out.
In order to step up enforcement of the law, city staff wants to install a new sticker system for dinghies that dock at the downtown bight and require the dinghy owner to show proof of pump out.
"If you're going to come to our dinghy dock, you should be following the law," said Mark Tait, the city's marina manager. "And the law says you are to be pumping out."
Tait presented his ideas to the appointed members of the Bight Management Board at their meeting last Wednesday at Old City Hall.
After a frank discussion about the unseemly but environmentally hazardous topic -- boaters dumping raw sewage into the waters surrounding Key West -- the board agreed 7-0 to postpone a vote so the city attorney's office can hammer out specifics in the law's language.
For example, said Assistant City Attorney Larry Erskine, how often are live-aboards expected to pump out, and should the rate depend on the size of the vessel's sewage tank?
"I can see a lot of heated arguments over this," said bight board member Jimmy Lane.
"We have a similar thing we do for grease traps," said board Chairman Michael Knowles, who is also the general manager of DoubleTree Resort.
"It has some moving targets to it, but we can do something with it," said Erskine.
The marina management's proposal comes at a time when recent water quality testing at 11 locations across various Key West marinas turned up a number of "poor" results, including at the bight.
Also, the county earlier this year installed a free pump-out service for live-aboards in Monroe County in an effort to prevent illegal discharge. It's a $320,000 annual contract paid for with boat registration fees.
The Florida Keys' waters are federally protected in the National Marine Sanctuary.
Staff said the vast majority of live-aboards don't pose a pump-out problem.
"[It's the] boats out there that are derelict vessels people have moved into," that lack power and a waste tank, said Tait.
"Some boats out there, I don't know if they have pump-out capability, to be honest with you," he said.
The postponement will allow the city to get the word out about the impending proof of pump-out rule, staff said.
Transient boaters will also have to show paperwork proving they have their tanks pumped out, too.
The Key West City Commission has the final say on any new or amended laws, but the bight board will make a recommendation after its own review.
"It's going to go further when it goes to the commission," said Tait. "It will include Garrison Bight. We're not going to inspect, just ask you to show proof you're pumping out."
Rent at the city's mooring field includes regular pump-out service, with the boat going out to the live-aboards.
The service can be done even if the owner of the moored boat isn't home, staff said.
In addition to the tougher pump-out rules, the bight board also talked about a new sticker program to control traffic at the dinghy dock, where some people tie up without paying the fee.
"This would add authority to my enforcement," Tait said. "The police don't enforce it. This is enabling us to be able to control our dock."