Cities and towns love development. The more the better. More money – for rich people – more tourists, and more – low paying – jobs. That’s partly why the Marathon City Council rubberstamped a proposal to redevelop the Sombrero Country Club into what will become Florida Keys Resort.
The newly approved development may also endanger a threatened bird and the sanity of nearby residents, while calling into questions the ethics of elected government in Marathon.
It’s well documented that Burrowing owls have lived on the Sombrero Country Club golf course for many years. The club uses the image of the owl in its logo. Continue reading
Wasting police time; wasting taxpayer dollars
There aren’t many issues that Americans agree on in this era of divisive politics. The country has been fractured by innumerable partisan confrontations from foreign wars to immigration to birth control. And yet a clear majority of people in the United States do consistently agree on one issue: legalization of marijuana.
Not medical marijuana either. Smoking dope, man.
When the White House created its website Change.Org it asked the public to vote on the “Top 10 Ideas for Change in America.” The result? The call to “legalize the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana” placed #1 in the 2010 Change.org online vote. Continue reading
What is it? GreenKeys! Yes, exclamation point. That’s how terrific it is. Terrific!
So what is GreenKeys!? It’s hard to say precisely. It seems to partially be an outreach effort by the expensive consultant hired by the county whose task it is to design how the Keys will implement its climate action plan and update sea level rise modeling (SLR).
Problem is, GreenKeys! didn’t do a particularly effective job at reaching out. It appears that only 23 or, to be generous, 27 people in the entire county responded to a survey distributed via Constant Contact. But the consultant only sent it to 89 people. Continue reading
Workers digging trench for sewer line in front of the author’s house stand in chest-high salt water.
Anyone who has lived in the Keys for any length of time knows that the ground we live on is very porous. Made up of either coral or limestone rock, the surface of these islands resembles flat colanders, allowing everything that falls on it to eventually pass directly through the ground to the salt water below, a mere few feet.
When the contractors dug trenches for the sewers in Marathon, those cavities immediately filled with salt water that rose and fell with the tide. As a result, anything that is sprayed or poured onto the thin skin that separates us from the ocean below finds its way into that ocean.
So, for example, herbicides that anyone sprays throughout the Keys would not only kill weeds and other plants but also would eventually become part of the ecosystems in our oceans.
Who sprays in the Keys?
I woke up this afternoon
I saw both cars were gone
I felt so low down deep inside
I threw my drink across the lawn
– Martin Mull, Shaker Heights Blues
I read in the Keynoter that the president of the gated and very wealthy Ocean Reef Club in North Key Largo pleaded for an aerial spraying before last Friday because of an invasion of salt marsh mosquitoes.
“Most of our nearly 2,000 or so members and guests will have had their Fourth of July ruined,” Ocean Reef President Paul Astbury wrote to Mosquito Control.
“I am the victim. My life has changed dramatically.”
So said an emotional Bruce Schmitt at a court session for the man who tried to have him killed.
At the session, a clearly frustrated U.S. federal judge, Jose E. Martinez, imposed the maximum allowable ten-year sentence on admitted murder-for-hire perpetrator Dennis Zecca in a sentencing hearing at the Federal Court Building in Key West on Wednesday. Zecca has been convicted of hiring someone – who turned out to be an FBI informant – to kill Schmitt, a Marathon realtor, for reasons still unknown.
Martinez wondered aloud what everyone else familiar with the case has been wondering since late 2012: why. Continue reading
Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test, [the poor] fail, and for this they are despised.
– George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933
Apparently it never rains in the Keys. And the hot sun doesn’t beat down mercilessly.
That must be the thinking of the local gendarmerie and town fathers in Marathon. While moving a commuter bus stop from a site in front of a local liquor store and bar might make sense, designing a new stop with no benches and no cover certainly doesn’t. But that’s what is going to happen in the Middle Keys as a result of a June 24 city council decision.
The bus stop in question serves two round-trip routes. One provides transportation to Key West while the other does the same between the Keys and Florida City. The people who use the latter are primarily service workers who travel two hours to slightly better paying low-end jobs at places such as Kmart, Winn-Dixie and Publix. Continue reading
A clearly frustrated U.S. federal Judge Jose E. Martinez imposed the maximum allowable ten-year sentence on admitted murder-for-hire perpetrator Dennis Zecca in a sentencing hearing at the Federal Court Building in Key West today. Zecca has been convicted of hiring someone to kill Marathon realtor Bruce Schmitt for reasons still unknown. Martinez wondered aloud what everyone else has been wondering, why. His sentence came after an emotional 15-minute statement by Schmitt to the court.
Check out Friday’s Blue Paper for the full story about what happened inside the courtroom.
Reading Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox’s new book is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating because the volume describes in varying detail more than 62 ecovillages, urban farms, and communities from all over the world working toward sustainability.
But the paperback is also a downer because it highlights what can be accomplished but isn’t in almost all cities and towns. Here in the Keys for instance, a place that is more than suitable for cutting-edge efforts to reduce human impact upon deteriorating habitats and our climate, nothing of the sort has been contemplated let alone implemented. Continue reading
The Marathon City Council on Tuesday agreed to spend as much as $ 9,250 to investigate the true cost associated with moving a historic Fresnel lighthouse lens back to Marathon.
– Florida Keys Keynoter
This is not a joke. Well, not an actual meant-to-be-funny-joke anyway. It might be Vice Mayor Chris Bull’s idea of a joke, but it’s hard to imagine that most of the taxpayers in Marathon would get the punch line.
That’s $ 9,250 in taxpayer’s money. That’s $ 9,250 that could have been spent on making the new city hall more energy efficient. Or the city itself. It might even pay for making a replica of the lens out Legos.
A little background. Sombrero Reef lies about eight miles off Marathon’s shores and is a much sought after spot for divers and snorkelers. The lighthouse on the reef was put in service in 1858, automated in 1960, and is still in operation. The upper platform, 40 feet above the water, held staff quarters but now the light is automated. The original lens, what’s known as a first order Fresnel lens, is on display in the Key West Lighthouse Museum. Continue reading
“I’m very proud of that,” Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said after looking through the climate assessment last week. “I’m very proud to be part of an initiation in a region that contains millions of people.”
– Neugent commenting on praise for four-county compact that produced the Southeast Regional Action Plan
We want to welcome back environmentalist Michael Welber for another in-depth interview.
More like survivalist.
Oh? And why is that?
You’ve probably been snoozing this month, which would actually be a good thing given the continuing inexplicable actions of some of our fine county commissioners.
What is it this time? Did they buy another restaurant? Continue reading
Tropical Furniture Gallery used its $ 1000 beautification money from the Chamber to erect a flagpole
Rumors raced around the Middle Keys this week that Marathon was changing the city’s name to The Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce City, Inc. A Blue Paper investigation revealed that, evidence to the contrary, the city would remain as Marathon despite heavy influence by the Chamber.
Nor would Marathon now be called Schmittville or Ramsayburg. Both rumors have been adamantly denied by sources close to the city council. And any change of the city’s name to Bull, well you know…is definitely, as the media loves to say, a non-starter. Continue reading
When Key West city commissioners voted to override staff recommendations and choose a higher bid for trash pickup, people in the audience were stunned. But no one was more stunned than Jody Smith Williams.
Smith Williams played a central role in getting the city to hire Kessler Consulting. Their job was to study how trash in Key West was picked up and then recommend improvements. The key alteration was switching from two trash pickups per week to one. That approach was part of what came to be known as the 1-1-1 plan with one trash pickup, one recycling pickup and one for yard waste. What shocked her most was the return to two trash pickups per week.
For over seven years, she advocated for developing a resource recovery system based on expert consultation that would help Key West do something better with its resources than hauling all the trash all the way to Broward County and burning 93 percent of it in the waste-to-energy incinerator there. Continue reading
Members of the Marathon city council recently debated whether there would be a cultural center or banquet hall in the planned $ 5 million (plus or minus) city hall. The new building will replace the current trailers that house city functions. And then, on Tuesday, Councilman Chris Bull moved that the city bring the old lens from Sombrero lighthouse “back to Marathon” and put it in the city hall, a very expensive proposal that will involve redesigning the lobby area and installing a humidity controlled room.
In all their discussions, the focus has been about money though Bull seems to have forgotten that.
“We’re building this one time and it’s for 50 years,” Vice Mayor Bull said.
Fifty years? What will the Keys be like in even 30 years? Continue reading
Anyone who has spent any time watching the Marathon city council in action will end up citing the now well over-used cliché, kicking the can down the road. While deferring action when it comes to pig ownership or dog parks or invocations may not matter all that much, the council’s lack of movement on selecting a new city manager does. It leaves the city rudderless.
On January 18, the council voted to select an interim city manager for a term of three months while the group searched for a replacement for Roger Hernstadt, who had just resigned. At their next meeting, without much public deliberation, the council installed Mr. Marathon, Mike Puto, as that temporary person. Now, nearly 120 days later, the council has done the minimum to move the process along. Continue reading
The 6-foot surge from Hurricane Wilma under the author’s house in 2005
When sorrow draws near,
The gardens of the soul will lie desolate,
Wilting; joy and song will die.
Dark is life, dark is death.
Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)
– Gustav Mahler
It was Earth Day this week.
Companies peddling environmentally sound products flooded in-boxes with promos for Earth Day sales. And environmental organizations did the same, extending eager hands for donations.
I don’t think the activists who launched Earth Day, fresh off vigorous demonstrations against the Viet Nam war, would be too enamored of the event’s activities in the Keys. There was a native plant day in the Upper Keys. A 5K run/walk in Key West a couple of weeks ago marked the event. And so did a fair at Bahia Honda, also two weeks ago. Continue reading
A rally last week in Tallahassee was staged to encourage solar energy development in Florida. Fortunately it became political because otherwise the mainstream media might not have covered it. Organizers used the event to accuse Gov. Rick Scott of blocking solar energy initiatives in the state at the behest of the big power companies.
Because Scott’s election-year rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist, attended the rally, the media paid some attention.
What should have made bigger news is how the state has placed its legislative thumb firmly on the development of renewable power. Florida has the third-largest potential for rooftop solar generation in the nation but ranks 18th in solar installations.
KEYS, which delivers power west of the Seven Mile Bridge, illustrates what is typical for the rest of the state. Look at information provided by KEYS spokesperson Lynne Tejeda about the sources of the utilities power. Continue reading
Last week’s announcement that the Crane Point Nature Center would back away from a $ 727,000 federal grant via the city of Marathon and also give up a height variance allowing towers higher than what Marathon normally allows had opponents of the proposed zip-line attraction cheering.
Lost in the celebration, however, was Crane Point board member Norval Smith’s announcement that the board would pursue building a zip line on their own. The initial more limited plan includes eight towers, three zip lines and sky walks. It’s difficult to fathom the depth of the organization’s obtuseness and inability to look reality in the face. Continue reading
When the Department of Economic Opportunity, source of a $ 727,000 Community Development Block Grant to Marathon for the construction of a zip-line course at the Crane Point Nature Center, asked for justification for Crane Point’s delinquency in submitting two required and very late documents, board chair Jeff Smith wrote, “The delays are attributed to third party appellant actions regarding the Administrative Height Variance issued by the City’s Planning Director.”
What Smith neglects to say is that the tardy environmental assessment was due to DEO in March 2013, and the wage decision request in June 2013. The appeal of the decision by Planning Director George Garrett to allow 46.25-foot high towers – nearly ten feet higher than Marathon allows – began in July 2013, well after Crane Point’s deadlines.
But the problems didn’t begin in 2013 or even 2014. Continue reading
Anyone who has ever lived in the northern part of the country knows how alluring the blue skies and sandy beaches of the Keys can be during the winter, especially a winter as brutal as the one that the Midwest and Northeast have just experienced. Visitors come here primarily for the warmth and not for seafood festivals or dolphin attractions.
One thing that surprises visitors who doze in a cold bed dreaming of floating on an inflatable raft on aquamarine water is how few public beaches there are in the Keys. Ironically, as dreary as Marathon can be, the city does have one of the nicer beaches in the island chain. Sombrero Beach, located right in the middle of town, has a long stretch of sand, relatively new covered pavilions, a children’s park, a pretty cement walkway, and very badly maintained bathrooms.
It’s a mystery why city government, which takes many opportunities to attract visitor dollars, can be so neglectful of one of the area’s primary attractions: Marathon’s sandy beach. Recently Marathon’s council voted to sink $ 5.43 million dollars or $ 180,000 a year over thirty years into repairing a decrepit bridge that people perceive as a big tourist attraction. And a loud and extended complaint rose from local throats when the TDC District Advisory Council (DAC III) initially voted to divert a big chunk of money from the Marathon Seafood Festival. That event pours thousands of dollars into the chamber of commerce’s coffers and DAC III voted to give TDC cash toward promoting Fantasy Fest. The latter doesn’t need the TDC money either. Both are well established events. Continue reading
In the following interview, Blue Paper columnist Michael Welber interviews former environmental activist Michael Welber. This Welber launched the city of Marathon Green Team in 2007, was a member of what was then called Monroe County’s Green Initiative Task Force, and has written extensively about environmental issues. He wrote recently (http://thebluepaper.com/article/debate-about-yard-waste-incineration-flares-up/) about the county’s plans to burn yard waste instead of shipping it to Broward or composting it here.
We’re delighted to have you with us today, Mr. Welber, so we can keep up with the yard waste issue. You certainly have what they call environmental bona fides.
Damn right I do.
So, Mr. Welber, do you think pigs will fly in Monroe County?
Wha?? Continue reading
Exhibit A: Democracy takes a back seat in the Middle Keys
The Marathon City Council, after some promises about making careful considerations, wasted no time in appointing former councilman John Bartus to the seat recently and abruptly vacated by Ginger Snead. Snead, to the shock of many, had suddenly resigned citing “rumors.” It’s never been clear what that meant.
While Bartus had served on the council and even been mayor, his last run at office didn’t work out so well. He came in fourth, trailing Mike Cinque, Rich Keating, and Don Vasil in 2009. In other words, the council appointed someone who the voters had soundly rejected in an actual election. Bartus had been president of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce and was nominated to the council and promoted by Councilman Chris Bull, also closely connected with the chamber. The rest of the council went along rather meekly.
In another setback for democracy in the Middle Keys, the committee assigned the task of reviewing Marathon’s charter has recommended that elections be scheduled for March instead of November. The voters had approved by a 58 percent margin moving the elections to November from March but now the charter review committee recommends the city revert to its original schedule. Continue reading
“No, no, no this is a terrible idea!”
Laura Haight, New York Public Interest Research Group
For reasons that remain as cloudy as the smoke from a wood fire, Monroe County seems determined to pursue a plan to incinerate yard waste. At the same time, the commissioners may be ignoring a comparably priced plan to compost yard waste here in the Keys.
The commission discussed the plan for over an hour at its February 19 meeting and, after hearing from nine speakers, eight of whom opposed the plan, kicked the proposals back to the county’s sustainability program manager Rhonda Haag.
At issue is why the commission wants to burn organic material despite a recommendation of its own Climate Change Advisory Committee and why the BOCC is making a concerted push to do this without competitive bids, giving the project to local contractor Rudy Krause on Ramrod Key? Wednesday’s session seemed to move the discussion back toward issuing an RFP but Commissioner Neugent continued to make a strong push for incineration as a way to save money. Continue reading
Marathon and the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, the operator of Crane Point Nature Center are being taken to court over the issue of the height of some of the hulking towers that would be part of the zip-line course at the site.
The dispute centers around a height variance granted by Marathon planning director George Garrett. The current height limit in Marathon is 37 feet; three or four towers (the final number is not clear) are designed to be 46.25 feet. A group of four activists appealed the height variance to the planning commission, which upheld Garrett’s decision on a 4-1 vote in July 2013. Continue reading
Contravening a report by a hired consultant, Monroe County seems to be pushing ahead with a plan to burn yard waste in the Lower Keys. Even by skewing the information provided to consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., that firm recommends composting yard waste over three other alternatives including incineration.
It’s an important issue because the decision that county commissioners will make has a direct impact on whether the county can reach its goal of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. In addition the proposal has been developed without any direct involvement by the county’s Climate Change Advisory Committee or any formal approval by that group. And finally, the no-bid process that gives a contract to Rudy Krause Construction for two years raises serious questions. Continue reading
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
– George Santayana
The city of Marathon is suffering from mass amnesia.
In a totally expected and even foretold move, the city council appointed Mike Puto, known by many as Mr. Marathon, as interim city manager at a salary of $ 10,000 a month. His term will last three months.
The news was greeted by many as the right thing to do. Comments on the Keynoter page announcing the appointment were all positive. Local Realtor Bruce Schmitt, a harsh critic of outgoing city manager Roger Hernstadt about whom he vented in many emails to the city council and others and who is Puto’s cousin, commented:
“No one will ever accuse Mike Puto of self-interest or of putting himself above the best interests of the people of Marathon. We all need to come together and support Mike as we move forward to heal these wounds. Mr. Marathon is the right choice at a time when we need him the most!”
What wounds Schmitt is referring to are not clear. Continue reading
Reacting to a strong letter from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and another from a Florida based ADA advocate, the Marathon city council moved at its January 28 meeting to “step back” from its support of establishing a zip-line attraction at Crane Point Hammock. That support came in the form of a grant application from the city to the Department of Economic Opportunity for $ 727,000.
The five councilors voted unanimously, as Mayor Dick Ramsay put it, “that this council take a backseat until such time as we hear an update on at least a couple of these issues, one of which is obviously what we’ve been talking about—this letter from the advisory committee and secondly, and it keeps bugging me, the ADA.”
Ramsay is primarily referring to a very strong communication from Cindy Fury of the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of Interior. Citing potential fatalities of the state-listed threatened White-crowned Pigeon because of likely collisions with zip-line wires or other structures, elimination of a vanishing hardwood hammock in the Keys, and woefully inadequate documentation, Cindy Fury of the agency, noted that potential prosecution could be in the offing if there is a “direct or indirect take (killing or injury).” Continue reading
The city of Marathon might be having second thoughts about partnering with the Crane Point Nature Center to construct a zip-line attraction in the Hammock. The U.S. government in the form of a letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of Interior delivered a staggering blow to the project in a 12-page letter sent to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).
The letter didn’t mince words.
“We strongly recommend that the zip line project not be approved and/or constructed within Crane Point Hammock due to: potential adverse impacts to the White-crowned pigeon and their habitat… ; lack of detailed information on the pigeon within Crane Point Hammock; lack of information on the extent of how this project could affect the White-crowned pigeon breeding population and habitat in Florida and the species rangewide; and the proximity , size, and quality of this important foraging habitat to the most productive pigeon nesting sites within the Keys.”
Even Marathon planning director George Garrett, who has approved the plans for the project, described the letter as “very damning.” Continue reading
Nondenominational: Lacking a denomination; not specific to a particular religion or sect.
At the end of the first invocation delivered to the Marathon city council since passing the resolution to do so, the minister, Pastor Nick Vaughn of the Marathon Church of God, concluded by saying, “We ask this in Jesus’ name.”
That is exactly what those who were concerned about public prayer thought might happen and that includes one of the members of the city council.
The council specifically voted to have a nondenominational prayer at the beginning of each session. Apparently Pastor Vaughn didn’t get the memo. In addition, the prayer occurred after the pledge of allegiance, the first item on the agenda.
When the council established the invocation, the plan was to have the prayer before the meeting actually started, i.e., before the pledge. That way, those who wish to pray could stand for the prayer and remain standing for the pledge. At the January 14 meeting those who had been standing for the pledge were forced to sit down if they didn’t want to participate in a public prayer. Some may have been embarrassed to do so. Continue reading
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
- H. L. Mencken
A letter to the editor appeared in last week’s edition of the Florida Keys Keynoter that posed a question about whether the members of the city of Marathon’s planning commission know what they are doing.
Bob Guerin, who lives in a gated community near a proposed site of a new trash transfer station, wrote:
“The planning commissioners are not elected but appointed by City Council members. I can’t imagine any qualifications are required, as two of the commissioners had no idea what they were asked to do.”
Another letter writer agreed.
Eric Viehman wrote that,
“… if Mr. Guerin is correct that this planning board comprises untrained individuals who are in power to overrule professional government-trained employees, I have to ask why? It seems to me that this is clearly a City Council responsibility to determine if the city professionals have made the right decision, not appointees with no experience.”
Guerin and Viehman may be right. Continue reading
At this time of year, publications run their year-end reviews ad nauseum. I use that word advisedly because what news writers and editors do is regurgitate the highlights and lowlights of the previous year. They do it primarily because it’s easy; trust me. I know because when I was an editor, I did it too.
And yet the stories that are chosen may not be the most important ones for our lives and those who follow us. I have only one story I’d like to highlight: our deteriorating climate and what we are or are not doing about it. While the local media may not cover it, the story is happening much faster than scientists thought it would and it’s happening right here. Right now.
Let’s start locally. I recorded over twice as much rain in Marathon as we have received in previous years. So far we have been soaked with more than 71 inches of rain versus the “normal” of 35. On June 1, 4.48 inches fell; on June 3, 5.8 inches. June is not normally a rainy month. On July 19, we got over 5 inches of rain. Still not the “rainy” season. That led to flooding, especially in Key West, and mosquitos.
As the climate warms, the atmosphere holds more water. Consequently, we get torrential rains and, in some places, very heavy snow. Conversely, some locations are suffering terrible drought. For the first time, drought made the top five-billion dollar disaster list. According to Weather Underground, the ongoing United States’ drought, which has been in progress all year, has caused $ 2.5 billion in damage. Continue reading
It’s been well publicized that the city of Marathon recently passed a resolution that calls for a non-denominational prayer at the beginning of its meetings.
The council members said they were responding, in part, to a “lot of emails” on the subject and moved forward with a vote of 4-1.
They got exactly 12 emails on the topic, two of which opposed an invocation of any sort.
The Blue Paper executed a records request from the city of Marathon asking for all emails with the words “prayer” or “religion” in them during the two-week period between when city councilor Ginger Snead first introduced the measure and when it was finally passed. It may be true that city council members get very few emails from the public but, by any measure, 12 emails in a city of 11,000 is not “a lot.” Continue reading
The Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development entitled “Our Common Future” stated that humanity has the ability to make development sustainable by meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change should be made consistent with future as well as present needs.
In an effort to save the county money, the County Commission and its sustainability program manager Rhonda Haag have developed a plan to burn yard waste in the Lower Keys. Currently yard waste is trucked up to Broward County to be burned along with the rest of the trash from the Keys in Waste Management’s waste to energy plant. Continue reading
People who didn’t attend the November 26, 2013 Marathon city council meeting or watch it on television or over the Internet might not know that their representatives voted to adopt a resolution requiring prayers before future meetings.
The item had been put on the agenda at the meeting itself by city councilor Ginger Snead. After a brief comment by each of the five council members, the group voted 4-1 to have a non-denominational prayer before future sessions. Newly elected member Mark Senmartin was the only one voting against as he felt that a moment of silence would be more appropriate.
The vote represents two problems. First, because the item was not on the agenda, no one from the public could comment because no one knew it was coming. Second, prayer before governmental meetings could violate the first amendment of the United States Constitution. Continue reading
On October 19 of this year an advertisement appeared in the Florida Keys Keynoter titled “Notice for Early Public Review of a Proposal to Support Activity in the 100-year Floodplain and Wetland.” While ads of this sort generally garner little attention, it did catch the eyes of those concerned about the installation of a zip-line attraction in the Crane Point Nature Center.
The notice sought input on the proposed construction and gave as a contact Marathon Community Services Coordinator Debrah London, listing her email address and phone number. The notice also gave contact information for Loretta Geotis from Crane Point and Calvin Knowles, the consultant from Meridian/GSG, the company that Marathon hired to manage the grant application process.
When a representative of Keep Crane Point Natural, an ad hoc group that opposes the plan, called Ms. London for more details, she was unable to explain what the comments were supposed to address. She referred the caller to Kevin Sullivan in Marathon’s planning department. His comment was that he “was not privy to the ad.” Nor did he respond with any further information. Continue reading
Campaign Button Worn By 15-year Old Michael Welber
For those of us who are aging boomers, today brings back bittersweet memories. It’s the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a day that I will always remember very clearly.
I heard the news in my college dorm room (I was reading Gulliver’s Travels for a class) and was completely bereft. Kennedy was the first politician I admired, the first I actually helped campaign for. Once, shortly after I left for college and my parents were visiting, my mother and I raced out to see his limo rush by the restaurant where we were eating. Tan, handsome, young, cultured, intelligent – everything most politicians at the time weren’t. My mother was in love with him and I guess many of us were. Continue reading
Today is America Recycles Day. Brought to you by Pepsico, Nestle Water, Johnson & Johnson, Glad plastic bags, Rubbermaid, and Waste Management.
Do you see a pattern? These are the same corporations that contribute to the problem of the large volume of trash that Americans generate every day. The ones that want to head off bottle bills and restrictions on packaging. They are all against mandatory recycling and against banning certain materials from disposal.
In the flyer that announces all the happy events associated with America Recycles Day the sponsors point to Barbara Bush Elementary School in Texas that celebrated America Recycles Day “by promoting plastic bag recycling through ‘It’s a Bag’s Life’ program – which educates individuals on the importance of plastic bag and film recycling. They worked in conjunction with their local Kroger grocery store to educate their community and hosted a collection event during the week of America Recycles Day. A total of 5,000 pounds of plastic bags were recycled!”
You’ll notice that there’s no mention of reusable bags. Or of reusing plastic bags after an initial use. The State of Florida has mandated that local communities cannot ban or tax plastic bags.
So is recycling actually worth it? Continue reading
Peter Willcox and Ross Williams in Key West
Sydney-based Briton Alexandra Harris, 27, wrote to her parents recently of her fears of “rotting” in a very cold prison. “Being in prison is like slowly dying,” her letter said. “You literally wish your life away and mark off the days.”
– Reuters report about arrest of Greenpeace activists in Russia
Half a world away from Key West, 30 Greenpeace activists rot in Russian jails awaiting trial for their peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. Conditions are terrible and the charges are for “hooliganism,” a word reminiscent of the old Soviet Union and the same one on which the Russians arrested the rockers Pussy Riot. The Greenpeace activists, now known as the Arctic 30, could end up in brutal Siberian penal colonies for as long as seven years.
While foreign governments have vigorously protested the arrests and newspapers in other countries have provided daily coverage of the group’s fate, the press and our government have given scant attention to the situation, despite the arrest of two American citizens. This is troubling to long-time Key West resident and well-known local chiropractor Ross Williams who describes one of those arrested – activist Peter Henry Willcox – as his best male friend. Continue reading
When the city of Marathon’s city council gave its final OK to partnering with Crane Point Hammock to develop a zip-line attraction in the nature reserve, city councilman Dick Ramsay insisted on accountability.
At a May 14, 2013 council meeting, Ramsay moved to approve the conditional use permit subject to property deed restrictions, a hold harmless regarding an ADA complaint, and a requirement that Crane Point deliver an initial progress report by June 1st. The council voted 4-1 in favor.
In addition, Ramsay wanted the council to require Crane Point Hammock to come before the City Council to give updates, including financial reports, on a regular basis. He asked Crane Point attorney John Wolfe about whether the council could have updates from Crane Point every other month.
Wolfe replied, “Yes.”
Since May the chair of the Crane Point board has come before the council exactly once. Continue reading
Senmartin’s backyard with backhoe Photo by Harry DeLashmutt
When an ordinary person knowingly violates a city’s code that’s an issue between that individual and the city. It isn’t news.
When someone who is running for Marathon city council flagrantly violates the code it is news. That “someone” is Mark Senmartin and his case is illustrative of both the failure of government and the local media that should be the eyes and ears of the public.
In March of this year, Senmartin began constructing a manufactured home on Bluefin Drive in Marathon. That was the beginning of what became a contentious saga.
According to his neighbor David Rasmussen, Senmartin
“took a backhoe and cleared his entire lot and pushed it five feet into my lot. He pushed over a 35-year-old thatch palm and killed it. He dumped a bunch of concrete into my yard.” Continue reading
Public Restroom Paris
Let’s say you’re visiting Key West and are window shopping on upper Duval and suddenly nature calls. Where are you going to be able to use a bathroom without ordering a sandwich at a local restaurant?
The Keys claim to be a tourist destination but neither the county nor the cities provide some of the services that tourists – and local residents – may need.
So what do people do? It’s not at all uncommon to see someone urinating in the mangroves on the side of the Overseas Highway. At the bus stop in Marathon, where the buses for Florida City and for Key West depart, some of the riders do the same in the shrubbery or on the side of the building behind the stop.
Publix supermarkets have bathrooms for their customers as do CVS and Walgreens. Before the visitor center was opened in Florida City many travelers slipped into the bathroom at McDonald’s without buying anything.
However, there doesn’t seem to be any push by either the county or the cities to provide these necessities in the Keys. While Marathon, for example, does have bathrooms at its parks, it has been slow to do the same at what is referred to as Sunset Park near the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Key West has bathrooms on Mallory Square but nowhere else in Old Town.
And yet some tourist destinations do provide appropriate facilities. Continue reading
Cheese Shop, Paris
On top of the insult of destroying the geographic places we call home, the chain stores also destroyed people’s place in the order of daily life, including the duties, responsibilities, obligations, and ceremonies that prompt citizens to care for each other.
– James Howard Kunstler, author of ”The Geography of Nowhere”
In the 17 years I have lived in the Keys, I’ve witnessed the steady and seemingly irreversible march towards homogenization in Key West. When I first arrived, indigenous shops and restaurants dominated the landscape and catered to tourists hungry for something different from what the malls and plastic tourist meccas of the United States could offer. Key West was no Disneyworld.
But that has all changed. Continue reading
“My cat got a bird!”
That’s what Amanda Margraves at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier hears over and over again. Margraves, who is the hospital manager and wildlife rehabilitator at the site, estimates that 50 percent of the injured baby birds they take in arrive as a result of cat attacks.
What’s most disturbing is that many of the birds are eaten or injured by domestic cats that are allowed to roam freely. Feral cats also eat young birds as well as other animals that may include endangered species.
The story is an old and vexing one but became relevant again recently because of the well-publicized financial problems encountered by Marathon-based Forgotten Felines. The group found itself in serious difficulty and had to suspend its efforts. However, they staged a pledge event this summer and raised enough, including a match from Turtle Hospital founder Richie Moretti, to revive a suspended trap/neuter/release program and will be able to continue to provide stray and abandoned felines with food and veterinary care.
It may surprise some to discover that the organization feeds more than 500 stray and abandoned cats every day.
While many would applaud Forgotten Felines’ efforts to protect cats, others have serious concerns Continue reading
A New Aquarium Going Up In Marathon
Marathon is aglow. A new aquarium is under construction in town and the chamber, members of the city council, and the media have declared this Middle Keys city to be an ecotourism destination par excellence.
They cite the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, the Turtle Hospital, Crane Point Nature Center, Pigeon Key and an as yet undeveloped Boot Key as evidence that tourists looking for places that care about their ecology will land smack dab in Marathon.
There’s just one problem. None of these qualify as ecotourism. Continue reading
Commercial fishing boats docked at Bight. Photo by Michael Welber
Anger and frustration exploded across the front page of a Middle Keys newspaper on Wednesday. The story reported on a meeting of the Ecosystem Protection Working Group as it presented very preliminary plans to restructure various protected zones in waters off the Keys.
Words such as “strangling” and “war” characterized the reaction of local anglers and guides to the plans being presented. According to the story no one testified in favor of greater restrictions during the lengthy session while more than 100 opponents trooped to the microphone during a very lengthy public comment session. Since commercial fishing is an important element of the Keys economy it’s important to look at both sides of the issue, something the paper’s story failed to do.
And so we have. Continue reading
Ad Bluster – Using targeted advertising and public relations campaigns to exaggerate an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems …
– http://www.stopgreenwash.org/ (Greenpeace greenwashing website)
A couple of weeks ago a mailer arrived in my mailbox. It ballyhooed the recent deal made among sugar farmers, the state of Florida, and several environmental groups and promoted what some refer to as Big Sugar. The deal provided substantial funding for Everglades restoration but also gave sugar farmers 30-year leases on their farms.
“Florida sugar farmers. Part of the solution,” it read. But what was this mailer? Who sent it out? And why? There is no group in the state listed as Florida Sugar Farmers as indicated in the return address. Nor did the mailer ask for any action on the part of the recipient the way political junk mail does.
And then about a week later a smaller version of the same direct mail piece arrived with essentially the same message. I asked around. Has anyone else received this? Since most people toss their junk mail, people I spoke to didn’t remember. But Mark Songer, former president of Last Stand, did get it and reacted with the same puzzlement.
“I was curious about those myself when they landed here,” Songer commented. “Obviously they were going to try to capitalize on the cooperation that the sugar growers had with the environmentalists in getting this compromise bill through in this legislative session. It was funny timing and I didn’t see the point of what they were sending around other than to make it look like they were not as bad a guys as everyone makes them out to be.”
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
– Bob Dylan
It has gone largely unreported that the Middle Keys have been inundated by an extraordinary amount of rain this year. Early June was marked by downpours of biblical proportions and the month’s very unofficial total was more than triple the average amount. July has begun in the same way and Marathon has again – already — amassed more than the monthly average amount.
Even more surprising – and again very unofficially – the city’s total rainfall for 2013 has exceeded the average for an entire year. And the year is only half over.
So what, you say. OK, it’s raining. It’s just weather. It’s the rainy season in the Keys.
Nope. This is more than just weather. Scientists have long been predicting that while the earth heats up as a result of global warming the atmosphere holds more moisture. What’s of concern is that their predictions have become reality much more quickly than even they thought. Continue reading
Foot of Front Street, Key West
In the June 20, 2013 issue of the New York Review of Books, a long article analyzes the problems in Venice, Italy. Right at the top of the list in the piece by Anna Somers Cocks is the damage inflicted on Venice by cruise ships. In many places in her story one can easily substitute Key West for Venice because the problems are the same, though on a smaller scale.
“On any given day now, except in the winter, you will see these vast white floating hotels, thirteen or fifteen decks high, towering over the ancient rooftops and steeples, being pulled by tugs toward the Doge’s Palace, then turning starboard down the Giudecca Canal. Most are over three times the length of an American football field, with gross tonnage of 100,000 or more (the Titanic was only 46,000 tons). In 1997 there were 206 cruise ships, in 2011, 655, and because they sail into and out of the city by the same canal, that means 1,310 passages—blotting out the view, polluting the air, shaking the houses, and displacing water up into the canals off the Giudecca.”
Venice has recently increased the dockage space to accommodate more ships, just as Key West is considering dredging to allow larger ships to enter the harbor. All the increased dock space in the Italian city has been constructed to permit the very biggest cruise ships. The primary factors in their decision are presented as economic. Continue reading
FKAA Florida City Aerial 2009
On May 24, a brief article appeared in the Citizen and created little notice. The story indicated that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority (FKAA) had commissioned a report from a private consulting firm that was designed to discover if the amount of water we consume has any impact on the Biscayne Aquifer, from which we get almost all our water.
It was no surprise to read that the conclusion was no. According to the piece in the Citizen,
“There is little or no correlation noted between groundwater levels and groundwater pumpage,” the report states. “[We plan to] Present findings of this study to the (South Florida Water Management District) to begin meaningful discussions on operations of the FKAA well field.”
Somehow this just didn’t add up. In essence the Aqueduct Authority is claiming that no matter how much water the Keys use, there will be no impact on the source. Continue reading
Marathon City Manager Roger Hernstatdt [left] and Marathon Mayor Mike Cinque [right] About to Attend ‘Cancelled” (“Secret”] Crane Point Meeting
“All I know is what I read in the papers.”
— Will Rogers
State representative Holly Raschein was mighty peeved by what I wrote last week about a meeting that was scheduled to occur on June 6 on the subject of what’s happening at Crane Point Hammock. The article could have been interpreted to imply that she lied about cancelling the session and I regret that.
However, the Keynoter did say in an article on May 18 that a meeting was to take place with state representative Holly Raschein about Crane Point. Raschein’s office announced that a meeting would be scheduled for June 6, with a time and location yet to be determined.
“It will be ‘a real in-depth discussion on how we move forward with this real pristine piece of property,’ she said. ‘If the zip line doesn’t work out, then what do we do to finance [Crane Point] so that it doesn’t shut its doors?’”
It probably comes as a surprise to those following the issue that the state or the city might be considering financing Crane Point at some future date. Or that people are already planning for what to do if the zip line fails even though it could be two years before it opens. Continue reading
“Everyone is commenting favorably on the ongoing median landscaping project [in Marathon]” crowed town cheerleader and chair of the chamber of commerce John Bartus.
Well, not everyone. Even though the city has been relatively conscientious about planting native greenery in the parks and at Sombrero Beach, the new ground cover on the median is anything but native. Of even greater concern to those who worry about our environment, the city applied a crystalized form of herbicide around the plants making the sites look like moonscapes.
The plantings are primarily the work of the city’s Image Advisory Board, which is virtually controlled by the chamber. [Full disclosure: I was a member of that committee but resigned because the chamber drove the agenda via the committee’s chair Peter Chapman.] Upon that committee’s advice, the city hired a landscaping firm out of Weston, Florida – JBC Planning and Design – and that company applied South Florida concepts to its landscaping plan. The city spent $162,000 on the extensive project.
Oh la de dah, one might say. Continue reading
Roger Hernstatdt and Mike Cinque About to Enter Building
First, state representative Holly Raschein mistakenly announced a meeting of interested parties involved with Crane Point to discuss the nature area’s finances. Then, suddenly, her office announced the meeting was cancelled.
They lied. They lied to throw the press off. [Please see Holly Raschein's response to this below.]
A meeting took place – as scheduled – at the training center of Coldwell Banker Schmitt with Keys Realtor Brian Schmitt hosting. Pictured are former Crane Point board chair Lynn Mapes; Mike Cinque, Marathon’s mayor and the ex-officio member of the Crane Point board; and Roger Hernstadt, Marathon city manager, all arriving at the offices of Schmitt Real Estate on June 6th around 3:00 p.m. Continue reading
March Against Monsanto Arrives At 7 Mile Bridge
Sometimes ridiculed as Apathyville, Marathon is not known for citizen activism. So it was a major surprise, even startling the organizers, that more than 70 people turned out for the recent March Against Monsanto. The group gathered at Marathon’s Community Park and walked two miles on a hot sunny afternoon to the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
The group, along with demonstrations all over the world, protested Monsanto’s total dominance of worldwide industrial agriculture, its refusal to reveal which products contain its genetically modified or genetically engineered ingredients, and its persecution of farmers for patent infringement. Continue reading
Crane Point Digs Itself Into A Deeper Hole
It’s no secret that the entity known as the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust has been in financial difficulty for some time. As far back as 2008, the board laid off nearly the entire staff of Crane Point Museum and Nature Center in an effort to right itself.
Even Marathon city councilor Ginger Snead, a consistent supporter of establishing a zip line at Crane Point, understands this.
“Everybody knew over three years ago that this place was in financial disarray, that they had financial issues,” she said at a September 25, 2011 city council meeting when the issue first came up for council approval.
While some would say that those financial difficulties illustrate the need for a zip-line attraction, critics object to the city of Marathon partnering with the nature reserve to obtain a Community Block Development Grant to fund the construction. They feel that continuing financial mismanagement could result in a failure of the entire enterprise with city taxpayers being left holding the bag.
Now it’s come to light Continue reading
There’s an old joke that goes, “If you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.” In other words, you’re gullible. While the bridge in the oft repeated saying originally refers to the Brooklyn Bridge, Monroe County might be wondering if the joke’s on them when it comes to acquiring the Old Seven Mile Bridge at the west end of Marathon.
So is Monroe County buying? Maybe not.
Favored by locals and tourists alike who love to walk or bike the 2.2 miles to Pigeon Key, the bridge has been closed to automobiles since December 2007. And yet, even though it’s no longer a bridge used by traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation, surprisingly, Continue reading
A much anticipated Marathon Planning Commission session that was to help decide the fate of a conditional use permit for construction of a zip-line attraction at Crane Point Hammock dissolved into chaos on Monday.
After presentations by Crane Point, the city, and a few citizens, George Chartrand, a resident of nearby 52nd Street, rose to object that the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust that operates Crane Point Hammock had not properly advertised the planning meeting. He indicated that, while the city code requires 4 square foot signs around the property and in the neighborhoods affected, the Trust had posted signs that are only 11 inches by 17 inches and only in front of the nature area. Continue reading
A home in Crane Hammock subdivision with Crane Point Hammock in the background. The photo illustrates what loss of habitat looks like.
“The zip line program has been designed to avoid and minimize impacts to intact native habitats to the maximum extent practical while still preserving the projects (sic) purpose of providing a quality experience that encompasses the extent and diversity of the property.”
That sentence sounds as if it comes from promotional material for the proposed “eco-canopy” (zip line) tour proposed by the board of the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust for Crane Point Museum and Nature Center. But that would be incorrect. Continue reading
There’s been a good deal of discussion lately about what people are calling “sustainability.” Five or six years ago, all the environmental chatter centered on “being green” but as that term has lost any real meaning, many in the environmental movement have moved to emphasizing becoming sustainable.
Key West has launched a sustainability advisory committee and hired a sustainability coordinator, filling it with former GLEE president Alison Higgins. Rhonda Haag works as the county’s sustainability program manager. And Marathon received a large grant to develop a Sustainability and Climate Plan, which was prepared by an outside vendor.
But the question becomes: can the Keys actually become sustainable? Or is all of this just more talk? Continue reading
An aerial photo of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s pumping station in Florida City. The Reverse Osmosis plant is at the bottom of the photo.
Citing the “delicate balance to be had in the Keys between public safety and property rights,” Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Thursday voted to allow 3,550 new residential units to be built in Monroe over the next decade.
That lead paragraph in the Florida Keys Keynoter referred to the governor and cabinet’s worry about public safety but never mentioned an even more critical concern in the Keys: water. Continue reading
Some residents of Marathon may be beginning to wonder whether those running Crane Point Museum and Nature Center will be able to manage the process of constructing a controversial zip-line attraction they plan. That could mean taxpayers will have to bear the financial burden of what could be a potential failure and possible foreclosure on the land itself. Originally planned to be in operation by February of 2012, the project is now scheduled to launch no sooner than March of 2014, over two years later than originally announced. The project suffered Continue reading