Over the last year I have followed with interest the discussions, meetings and Free Press articles written about the near shore waters of Lower Matecumbe Key. As a resident of Port Antigua with a home near the beach and the mother of an 11-year-old, the safety of our near shore waters off Port Antigua, White Marlin and Sandy Point concerns me. I live here year round, own my home and work locally. My son attends a local school and rides his bike in our neighborhood.
Several issues that have been raised at meetings, in emails and in news articles seem strange to me. The article in a recent issue of the Free Press, written by Robert Silk, quotes several individuals: renters, Boca Raton, Long Key and Miami residents. It was my understanding that one must vote in elections in the area in which one lives. I realize this issue is not an election, but the concept is similar; allowing individuals who do not live in Islamorada, pay taxes in our municipality or vote in local elections to dictate local policy seems counterproductive. We have significantly more tourists than residents, and I am pretty sure if I and 150 of my closest friends were to set up barbecues and play loud music within 300 feet of their homes we would not be welcome.
I have heard people say restricting boat traffic within 300 feet of our shores would be dangerous for their children and make it difficult for the elderly and disabled to enjoy the waters. Personally, I prefer my son to swim in boat-free areas. The visibility is better without large boats coming in and out, and the removal of motors eliminates prop injuries such as the death suffered a few weeks ago by the good Samaritan in Miami attempting to help push a large boat off the sand. Two weekends ago we had a large boat with multiple motors stuck just off our beach. The owner caused significant damage to the sea bottom attempting to motor off. Luckily no one in that incident was hurt. We did have a fight off our beach involving a Jet Ski, with the drunk, unruly individual escorted back to Miami. There was also a fight on the [Whale Harbor] sandbar involving a large boat with multiple engines in shallow water. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office Facebook page mentioned in its report that particular fight ended in a trip to the hospital with facial injuries.
The 300-foot mark off our beach on Lower Matecumbe has waters between 3.5 and 4.5 feet deep. Directly off our beach in Port Antigua we have a sandbar at roughly 100 feet from shore. Our waters out to 300 feet are shallower than a traditional swimming pool. Should young children, the elderly or disabled desire to come swim in our near shore waters, they are welcome. However, this is the ocean and appropriate supervision should be maintained whether they are 100 feet or 300 feet from shore.
"Doesn't the sea belong to everyone?" Yes, it does, but just as the air we breathe belongs to everyone, we are required to follow the laws of the village, state and federal government. The Federal Aviation Administration regulates the airspace above us, airplanes are not allowed to fly anywhere they wish or even near one another. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the emissions we set into the air. We cannot burn whatever we wish or discharge car, boat or manufacturing emissions however we so desire. The U.S. only "owns" the waters out to the international boundary line, and the village controls to 1,200 feet from shore.
Anyone who so desires is welcome to swim in our near shore waters. However, as a homeowner, I am entitled to peaceful enjoyment of life in my own home. I should not hear music from the beach in my house with the doors closed and the windows shut, and yet I often hear music blaring from speakers on boats anchored mere yards from shore. I have given up trying to sit on the beach or even on my porch on weekends and holidays with my son. The language, alcohol use, nudity and dangerous boating practices have eliminated my enjoyment during these times. My son actually does much of his yearly mandatory school community service snorkeling within 300 feet of the beach picking up the trash dumped from the partying boats. We stopped counting after we collected more than 100 beer bottle caps on our last swim. We would welcome any Village Council members who wish to clean up the waters to join us after one of these weekends. We call them "treasure hunts" because we never know what we will find.
I look forward to the Village Council implementing a motor-exclusion zone in the near shore waters off Lower Matecumbe.
Allison D. Zettwoch, Islamorada