The sanctuary advisory committee got a presentation of the proposals Tuesday at the Cultural Center at Ocean Reef, about as far North as you can go and still be in the Keys. The audience was out-attended by about 48 professionals to one member of the public (moi). The three dozen committee members sat around the central table while staff and reporters typed busily on laptops in the outer orbit of the vast chamber.
The County Marine Resources Director, Rich Jones, last survivor standing of a department that got decimated in a recent "restructuring" made the presentation. He said the state wants to regulate non live aboard vessels and is asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission (the former Marine Patrol) to do it. When asked why the program isn't going to be county wide Jones looked nonplussed for a moment noting it's hard to enact a whole bunch of new regulations when there's only one person to do it. So for now it will be tested in three Monroe County locations as well as two east coast and two west coast anchorages around Florida.
The idea apparently is to encourage responsible boaters, per state definition, and not allow irresponsible boaters to anchor out, thus to discourage spreading sewage and dumping of wrecked craft in coastal waters. It sounds easy enough, if expensive, but the devil is always in the details of lawmaking.
The state wants the trial program underway by next year and evaluated by 2014 but some of the simpler tasks seem elusive.
So to start with: every single boat in the three proposed anchorages has been checked and photographed and classified as liveaboard, transient or stored. That was amazing to consider how much work went into the study.
Boca Chica Basin has been discovered by people seeking cheap accommodations as a secure anchorage not too far from Key West and the population in the anchorage is stable around 85 boats with very few transient visitors. The pilot program is extremely keen to regulate Boca Chica and it's hovelcraft. Boot Key in Marathon is another area under consideration through the pilot program, as is one Upper Key anchorage of which I am not familiar.
The old white men, most with beards oddly enough, (so I fit right in,) listened with rapt attention to the fast paced and very informative presentation. Jones did an excellent job.
Everything has been mapped and classified and photographed in the anchorages however some definitions got stuck. "Floating structures" currently are unregulated and don't have to carry state registration stickers. That caused an outburst from the head of the Sanctuary who went on and on about his blood being made to boil by scum who don't pay taxes.
Happily he was put in his place by a mild mannered (bearded) respondent who noted the tax evading scum do pay certain taxes and do the grunt work in the Keys and couldn't afford to live here were it not for boats. A point of view that I was surprised to see informed much of the debate that excluded the reactionary walrus.
A platform with a leaf roof would be illegal unless it were properly anchored with legal ground tackle. However many of these hovelcraft are anchored on illegal débris, cement filled engine blocks frequently. The county spent far too much money removing these abandoned boats last year: more they said than the widely quoted $273,000.
The broad outline is this: in future boats will most have to pass Auxiliary Coastguard inspections and wear a sticker. These voluntary programs have been in effect for years and are very basic, simple and easy to implement, and it's not hard to get a boat in compliance with lights and safety gear. Then a pump out service will be provided to suck sewage out of the boats' tanks for a reasonable cost, around $5 a visit maybe. That will yield another sticker. Those stickers and use of proper anchors will allow boats to live in these pilot program anchorages. Obviously the idea is to spread these requirements all round Florida. At this level they seem non intrusive, sensible and environmentally desirable. If the head of the sanctuary gets his way they will be used to eliminate tax evading scum...and therein lies the danger.
It really doesn't seem that arduous to me but change comes hard and there has been lots of yelling and moaning from people who think shitting in the water is defensible. Of course it is for those of us who live in homes with septic tanks until they finally get sewers installed the length of the Keys. That may be postponed till 2020 in the hope that public funding will come available. And we know that ship has long since sailed...
The 45 minute talk was rational and as clear as possible in light of the lack of definitions so far.
And clearly these rules are just a start. Unfortunately we are returning to a 20th century atmosphere where demonizing those who are different is once again fashionable and the attendees were obviously aware of the dangers. A lot of middle class white people started their lives in the Keys by living aboard and those that had made themselves known at the meeting prefacing their remarks by saying "I lived aboard..."
The FWC is also starting a new program checking boats to see if they are 'at risk' of becoming derelicts. All these changes are going to alter the freewheeling nature of living on a boat.
I spent more than a decade living on a boat in marinas and at anchor. I met a lot of people who said they had a God given right to do as they wish. In the future they are going to have to move to somewhere pretty remote to live like that and I don't think may of these so called sailors have the knowledge or the skill or the boats to cross the Gulf Stream in search of the fountain of freedom to anchor and pollute. They'd better learn how to pass a safety inspection if they plan to stay in Florida, land of unregulated development and pill mills and plastic surgery. And soon, very regulated anchoring.
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