April 10, 2019

KEY LARGO — Tarpon Basin live-aboards will no longer be able to use a county government center as their personal shoreside facility due to an ordinance going into effect Monday, April 15.

The Monroe County Commission last month declared an emergency and unanimously passed an ordinance restricting access to and prohibiting certain activities at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center.

County officials say that the live-aboards’ intrusive actions have not only dissuaded taxpaying residents from using the park and its facilities but has imperiled county operations.

The county has witnessed an uptick in recent months on the property of alcohol use, long-term parking of cars by live-aboards, repairs of boat motors, a few of which caught on fire, and several dinghies and other vessels docked at or near the seawall.

The ordinance prohibits anyone from camping, drinking alcohol, grilling food or having a campfire on the property, mooring a vessel within 25 feet of the property, using the park for commercial purposes or parking overnight without the written permission of the county administrator. It also bans fireworks and the use of drones.

“Oil spills are happening. We’ve had engine fires,” Assistant Monroe County Administrator Kevin Wilson said.

He said the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the new rules.

Staff vehicles must now display stickers.

“The cars left here long-term without the stickers will be towed,” Mayor Sylvia Murphy said. “Some of these boat owners have two or three vehicles parked here, leaving people who come here on business with nowhere to park.”

She said that boaters’ carte blanche use of the government center began after it first opened to the public in 2010 and it is not the intended use of the facility.

“The rules and regulations here after April 15 will be that they won’t be able to tie up or anchor within 25 feet of the shore,” she said. “We’re hoping this will address the problem that we’ve been seeing.”

Live-aboard resident Roger Fishman is outraged by the county’s new rules.

He said the county is essentially serving eviction notices to residents who need access to shore. As a veteran, Fishman said such access is critical to him. He said the new measure is discriminatory toward him and the entire boating community.

Efforts in recent years by the county to establish a local mooring field for boaters have been unsuccessful.

tjava@keysnews.com