July 10, 2019

David Gross photo
Village Councilman Ken Davis posted aerial photos on his Facebook page of the Fills on July 4. Pictured is the Indian Key Fill boat ramp. 'There has been nothing but good news so far,' Davis said Friday.

David Gross photo Village Councilman Ken Davis posted aerial photos on his Facebook page of the Fills on July 4. Pictured is the Indian Key Fill boat ramp. 'There has been nothing but good news so far,' Davis said Friday.

ISLAMORADA — Calm prevailed at the Indian Key Fill area on July 4 and 5, the first two days of a newly imposed management plan.

“There has been nothing but good news so far,” Councilman Ken Davis said Friday afternoon. “Things seem to be going extremely well at this point.”

The village of Islamorada’s plan, negotiated with the Florida Department of Transportation and assisted by local law enforcement officers, seemed to curtail some of the holiday and weekend problems created by burgeoning crowds at the scenic area from mile marker 77.5 to 79.8.

“Parking control measures along the Fills between Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys were a success on the July 4th holiday,” an Islamorada report says. “Village staff manned the Indian Key boat-ramp parking lot and other parking areas to direct people to permitted parking spots and let people know when the parking was full.”

Before the Fourth, there was no guarantee the move to reduce damage in the area would succeed.

Previously, the stretch comprising “the Fills” — three small islands linked by three U.S. 1 bridges — suffered environmental harm from unregulated parking and shoreline abuse, largely blamed on mainland day-trippers. Garbage and cooking grills were left behind. The lack of bathroom facilities created a health risk.

Islamorada residents turned out in force at recent meetings to urge Village Council members to seize control of the area and to demand a safer traffic pattern to reduce accidents.

However, the troublesome area is owned by the FDOT as right-of-way, so the village had limited authority to act.

In late June, the FDOT agreed to a short-term lease to let Islamorada manage the area while a long-term plan is crafted.

The new plan allows “approximately 90 parking spaces available on the Fills, reducing vehicles by as much as 80 percent on the most congested weekends,” the Islamorada report says. “Sheriff’s officers were on duty throughout [July 4] to provide additional parking control and enforcement.”

Village Manager Seth Lawless said July 4 and 5 “went really well. The controlled parking that Public Works came up with has really been proving its worth. We do need a few people out there on the ground to make it work. So far, I could not be happier.”

Visitors were largely agreeable, Davis and Lawless said.

“Staff interacted with about 40 people and the only one who got a little sassy was a local,” Davis said.

“Everybody could launch their boats but once [11 vehicle-and-trailer spots filled], that’s it,” Lawless said. Several people drove from the Indian Key Fill ramp north to the south end of Upper Matecumbe Key, about two miles away, then walked or got a ride back, he said.

“For some, it was a little more inconvenient, but people were respectful,” Lawless said. “There were plenty of people there enjoying the water.”

Village employees were scheduled to watch over the Fills through July 7. Plans for staffing at upcoming summer weekends had yet to be determined.

On areas at the Tea Table and Lignumvitae Key fills, parking is limited to four paved areas with space for 15 to18 vehicles in each. Barricades have been set up to limit vehicle access to other areas previously used for parking. People can walk from the lots to shoreline areas.

Village Councilman Jim Mooney was traveling out of state but saw photos and reports on the Fills.

“It looks to me like it’s going as planned,” he said. “It seems like it worked really well. I think this could be the start of something.”

kwadlow@keysnews.com