The thing is that anchoring a boat almost anywhere in the Keys is a cheap way to live if you can find a place to land a dinghy and lock a bicycle to a mangrove. In fact if you follow many of the trails around Big Pine's Newfound Harbor (where I took these pictures) you will find dinghies and bicycles waiting for their working owners to return from a day in the salt mines.
Some people store boats and floating contraptions at anchor which then break loose from time to time and sink or clutter the shorelines, tear up seagrasses and look gross. The county spent $273,000 last year removing such derelicts as Neugent pointed out more than once in his editorial but it's no easy or cheap thing to dispose of indestructible fiberglass. As Neugent noted there are many better ways to spend that money, and it's a recurring expense that seems to barely make a dent in the numbers of derelict boats.
He also pointed out in no uncertain terms that claiming this lifestyle as an expression of freedom and independence has no meaning when the squatters on the water are taking advantage of the unregulated situation to pollute and damage the environment.
As a former liveaboard boater (like Neugent himself) I understand both sides of the debate not least because boats are in a legal limbo. The law views them as conveyances whereas people living on their boats view them as residences and thus should require a warrant to enter and search. Typically state law enforcement board boats for safety inspections lightly disguised as fishing expeditions and they tend piss off the boaters. On the other hand because my boat met standards and because I didn't smoke dope a safety inspection in my case tended to be cursory. My home was a boat first and looked like one and thus attracted little attention.
The irony here lies in the fact the county is considering asking for an extension of state deadlines to install $200 million of sewer lines throughout the Keys. Currently the residents of all islands except the last two basically shit in the water. Septic tanks in limestone rock don't work so well. A recent study proved coral bleaching is caused by human waste in the water, a subject that has been debated and denied for decades. Sewers were proposed twenty years ago and the county commissioners of the time thought they had pulled a fast one delaying installation of the sewers. I guess they did a clever thing because now we have dead coral and no state funding to clean them up.
So we are now entering a phase of less and less money, fewer programs, restricted funds and shrinking matching grants. The sewers seem unlikely to get federal or state funds and the county can't afford them. More derelict boats will accumulate, and we will never clean the waters enough to allow coral to grow back. Or will we?
The question is: how much do clean waters matter? Do they matter enough to tax ourselves us to achieve them? No one else will pay to install sewers on land and pump out stations near anchorages. If we want anchor out boaters to pump out they will need convenient facilities to be able to do it, so the demand that they do pump out is reasonable. On the other hand so what if they do pump out? As long as the pump out station is simply recycling live aboard shit into the septic tanks that leach it back into the water, what's the difference? Really? So is the oversight of boats simply a ruse to limit freedom? I wonder how deep this discussion has to go before keeping the water clean becomes a priority.
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