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.
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Is sustainability possible in the Keys? Blue Paper columnist Michael Welber asked this question in a recent column in this paper. From that starting point he proceeded to look at the Keys’ water, electricity and food consumption, then answers his own question with “…let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not sustainability.” Since the article called out a board that I’m on – Key West’s Sustainability Advisory Board – I’ll take that as solicitation for a response….
The first issue I have with the piece requires me to invoke Clintonian protocol and assert that you need to define just what “is” is. IS sustainability really narrowly focused on communities’ ability to produce their own water, electricity and food? I would say: Not really. Those are components of SELF-sustainability. Sure, to be self-sustaining a community would have to be able to survive cut-off from the rest of the world. But a real-world GREENy doesn’t take “sustainability” to that extreme.
Michael’s statement that the “accepted definition of sustainable development is that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” is mostly true. 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