Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hubris Key West Style

Nobody could really believe it when the Feds stood up and announced loudly that they owned Wisteria Island. But...but...but e Bernstein family owns it don't they? Not according to the Federal Government which has asserted ownership going back to the 19th century. As reported by the Key West Citizen the ownership was confused by the question of whether or not the island is shallows created naturally or an island built with dredgings from the creation of the deep water harbor. The material dredged is called spoil thus the question is: does that make Wisteria a spoil island or not? At first the answer was yes, allowing the private ownership, now the research says no thus the Feds will have to reimburse the modest purchase price and assume control. Or will they? Local authorities are hoping this scenario will come to pass but no one can really believe the nuisances who claim ownership will be booted out. And the Bernsteins have proved to be a huge headache for local officials.
This whole mess started out when the family prosecuted a couple of liveaboard boaters who took a walk on the island and were taken to court for trespassing. The walkers ultimately won their case, but the precedent was set that walking the island was trespassing. After decades of neglect the family had decided to turn the scrubby island into gold. They presented a plan to the county for a whole resort to be built with hotel rooms, cottages, employee housing and as a sop to local people a park. The county recoiled pointing out that land use rules allow but two homes. Which at modern rates you'd think would have made the Bernsteins millions for two homes sharing a private island. But we live in a greedy world and many more millions made more sense to the land developers. Had they accepted the modest proposals they probably would have got away with the ownership and made enough money for an average family to live extraordinarily well in perpetuity. What happened instead was a local land use activist with the moribund Last Stand environmental group got active and single handedly researched the issue and pestered the Feds and threw the ultimate wrench into the works. The problem with development is that developers never give up. Block them and back they come. Block them and back they come. It's a never ending process of wearing down the opposition. However get the Feds involved and then you have to go to the Republican Party and get them to rein in our ultimate protectors. So far the Feds trump all. Well done Last Stand. Wisteria gets to remain public and perhaps little less wild than below or it becomes an exclusive village as see at the bottom, on Sunset Key.
Wisteria's future is undecided but that mere fact is exciting in a world made safe for developers. I hold out no hope for Truman Waterfront, especially now that the Mohwak has been banished anid scheduled for sinking. With the museum gone from the seawall upscale development will be able to move in. The struggle to contain these things never ceases. Happily a false step has exposed a fissure that Last Stand heroically exploited.
I walked Wisteria Island when I was living on my boat at anchor. It was a musty airless place covered with acidic Australian pines (hence it's nickname of Christmas Tree Island, because to the fevered tropical mind casuarinas can resemble pine trees from a distance) which don't permit other growth. Boaters used the island happily as a place to do boat projects repairing dinghies and outboards, as a place to walk their dogs and as a site for cook outs and campfires in winter. I doubt it will return to that happy natural state but we can now hope that it may be something other than a second Sunset Key. One is quite enough.

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