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
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