Nov 112016

If you don’t know the back story on the Wisteria Island ownership dispute have a look at our Blue Paper Wisteria Island stories here.

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.

  26 Responses to “Wisteria Island: Hell or Paradise?”

  1. What a wonderfully uplifting story–especially well-timed. My thanks to to the volunteers, Waste Management, and to the marine salvage boat (Arnaud’s, I presume).

    Was this advertised? Next time, I’d like to volunteer or chip in for gas.

    Thank you so much for doing and sharing this, Naja.

  2. It was my first time to Wisteria and it is a magical place. The sense of community among the people that regularly use the island is unique and inspiring. These folks really care about each other and the island. They all pitched in and had piles of trash ready for pick up along the beach. A truly beautiful unspoiled place,

  3. Naja and Arnaud, perhaps mostly Naja, are the reason this documentary was able to be filmed. But for them, today, Wisteria Island would look like its near neighbor Tank Key, er, Sunset Key.

    How that came about was Naja dug up dried bones of legal histories of Wisteria Island indicating that maybe the US Government still owned it, and the blue paper kept publishing that, as Naja kept digging, and finally she convinced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that the U.S. Government probably, actually, did own Wisteria, and BLM staked its claim to Wisteria.

    That really freaked up the alleged owner-developer’s plans – that would be Roger Bernstein and family, partnered with the Walsh family, who own Sunset Key – to turn Wisteria into Sunset Key Deux. So, Roger took it to federal court and he didn’t like how that turned out. So far. And, here we are, still kinda in limbo, since the federal court only said Roger had waited way too long to bring his lawsuit, and who actually owns Wisteria the federal court did not say. Yet.

    I will add this bit of woo woo.

    Back when Naja was digging up the bones in the graves in the title history, and the digging was getting rough, I had a dream in which I was told to tell Naja to keep digging, there was more to find, and I told her about the dream and she kept digging. Along the way, it is said, Roger Bernstein labeled Naja witch, which, when I told Naja that, she seemed to really like, and she cackled just like a witch.

  4. I would love to live on Wisteria but my wife would not be willing to live that lifestyle.
    Have nothing but respect for the people that live on it because it is the only affordable place they can live. Perhaps some monthly way to collect trash could be set up.

    And yes thanks Naja for saving the island

    • It would be nice, though, if they, or some of them, or many of them, who live on Wisteria, stopped trashing it?

      • Perhaps a dumpster where they dock the Dingy would help. Add some charge to the docking fee to cover it. Maybe create a recycle section on island. Yes some simply will not try or care but do think most would try. Did notice wood going into that dumpster that could been burned.

        • There is already a dumpster near the dingy dock that is for the use of live aboards. It is behind Turtle Kraals and beside the Cuban Coffee Queen. The city spent over $400k for that dumpster shelter back around 2008.

    • Shouldn’t it be just as possible for Wisteria people to remove trash the same way and with the same timeliness that the trash arrived there in the first place? Sure, some of that drifted onto the island, but most of what I saw in the video took a boat ride over from Key West. Can we put together a similar group of volunteers to come over to my house and clean it up? A new coat of paint, some landscaping and replacing some rotten siding would be nice.

      • Do you think they are living there by choice ? Many simply do not qualify for the section 8 housing and can not earn enough to rent a place. The trailer park on Simonton was home to many and affordable. Thanks to your system a con artist got his way and they got dozed down along with dozens of trees. And forgot to check on it while there for FF , Did it ever get finished ? People will survive what ever way they can. They are poor but not trash. Just be happy with what you can afford. Unless your actually on that island how would you see the trash ? Am sure they would rather live with AC. Is there a need to attack how they live ?

        • Jim, interesting that you should make the connection with Simonton Street Trailer Park. One of the people living on the island used to live at that park. He has not been able to find an affordable place since. He was there Sunday helping to clean the island. As to the old trailer park – the buildings are up – its mostly empty – for sale signs prominent.

          • Did all the units ever get a C O. They been up for over a year but see little to no work being done on them.
            Usually we will walk past it for entertainment. It dam sure looks nothing like the original picture. Looks like another scam. Will see it when we return for NYE.
            Are they all being taxed yet ?

            Yes , many that performed at Mallory Square lost a home. Dam shame because now very few performers.

        • People may sometimes not have any choice where they live, but they can have a choice in how clean they keep the surroundings where they live. Why did it get so bad that such a large scale clean up was necessary? Don’t most of us clean up as we go?

          • Trust me , as a landlord we seen all kinds. We seen people that don’t know what a trash can looks like. Lets not label all of them based on the few that trashed it.

            Ever look at Duval after FF parade ? Some people were not raised with enough respect to act like humans.

      • Wisteria Island – not to be confused with someone’s private home – is a haven for wildlife and a beautiful natural recreational area for locals. People have always been willing to spend their time volunteering to clean up Wisteria Island – they do it because they love nature and because they enjoy an occasional escape from the rat race. Of course, everyone wishes the humans out there would have more respect and cease bringing all those creature comfort items that inevitably turn into heaps of trash and ruin the forest ambiance. It would be dreamy if those using the island would keep it clean and would “camp” there rather than setting up “house” but hey – none of us own it. Let’s just keep loving it.

  5. Helping clean up Wisteria island last week was a labor of love. So many boaters and those who use and enjoy the island, knew we would be coming and did a great deal of clean up before we arrived – gathering and bagging trash that was sitting at various locations on the beaches around the island. Thanks to Naja and Arnaud for organizing, all the helpers at the island, Greg Sullivan for the dumpster, and Satya for the pizza!

  6. I didn’t see anywhere in this article about where all the Christmas Tree Island human generated pee and poop ends up. Exactly how many people live there and do their business into buckets and an outgoing tide? Don’t try and say everyone only uses the public toilet next to the dinghy dock.

    • And that is probably because we [I, Naja] really don’t much care that a handful of humans are occasionally leaving their biodegradable excrement in remote areas of Wisteria Island. Now the millions of gallons of sewage that have been and continue to be pumped into the surface waters, one way or another, by all of the good upstanding people who live in tidy little houses throughout the Keys [including myself] — the bacteria, the viruses, the pharmaceuticals, the nitrogen and phosphorous, the micro-plastics, etc., coming from those houses, that is being injected into shallow and deep wells up and down the Keys — that is something to ponder and fret over…

      • Arnoud and Naja, I’m happy to hear that you two are now both bio scientists. In exactly which remote areas of Wisteria Island is it acceptable to deposit unprocessed human waste? If I were to pump such waste from my boat into the water, I would receive a significant fine. Exactly why are Wisteria Islanders exempt from such bio pollution regulations and environmentalists will prosecute all others for the same offenses?

        By the way, I get a giggle from the fact that the first stop for all the Wisteria sewage is the Sunset Island beach. That probably isn’t a marketing feature in the advertisements for their resort and multi-mullion dollar residences. Has anyone ever conducted a Fecal Coliform test for the Sunset Island beach? I doubt it. Everyone knows it would come up as contaminated.

        • We don’t decide what is “acceptable”. However there is no question that the sewage from a half dozen folks living on Wisteria Island is inconsequential in comparison to the sewage coming from the visitors, cruise ships, and entire population of the Keys – no bio science involved. We did write this article on the topic of boater sewage vs. homeowner sewage back in January of 2014:

          • Good article and seems to confirm my guess. A hard rain washes your streets to the ocean.

          • The following is from an August report in The Citizen. It sounds like there are a lot more than just a half dozen “campers” on Wisteria:

            “As of this month, the 22-acre island was home to 18 campsites, a small make-shift boat repair shop, 12 people with active warrants and one registered sex offender, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.”

          • Something to understand, active warrants do not always mean a dangerous person. Now if you care to expand that to the name, age and charge then please do so. That charge could be over some non serous charge as simple as failure pay a parking ticket. Yes I take the sexual offender charge serious but it is easy to land on that list. All it takes is for a boy of 18 to have sex with his 17 year old girl friend of 5 years. Or simply accidently exposed himself to a minor.

            Maybe this is just one more step to remove all the homeless. They got ran off the beach by calling it camping, and seems ran out of Ft Zack too.

            Why must we turn something nice like a clean up day that was by non paid help into another bashing of the poor ? Some of you might find your self needing to live that way.

          • Turns out the Citizen article was fake news. Debunked several months later when the Sheriff’s Office admitted the info was not accurate but didn’t think it was important to point that out to the Citizen reporter who republished it 3 more times.

    • That amount of sewage is so small that it is not worth even getting upset. No it is not a legal septic system but it effectively does the same as the injection wells. What do you thing wild life does ? Have the key deer caused a problem ? How about the chickens all over key west ? Key West created the problem with out of control rents.
      What man will say he never pissed on the ground outdoors ?
      This is people that can not deal with the results of how some are forced to live. They manage to stay alive. Someday it might be you living that way. Man really does not need near as much as you think to stay alive. Food, water and a dry place to sleep are the basics. A few bucks a day will do just fine if it is all you have. They are doing the best they can.

  7. It probably isn’t a good idea for The Blue Paper to bring the Wisteria Island “campers” into the public discussion. Now that the island appears to be under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, it also falls under their regulations:

    The most significant of these for the current Wisteria “residents” is the limit of 14 days in a 28 day period. Sure, that will be difficult to prove, but it is how the Feds will someday clear out Wisteria.

  8. Do you understand where all the spilled drinks, and vomit from intoxicated people on Duval street ends up ? Take a look at the writing on the storm drains. All ends up in the ocean. Seen many urinate on the street too. Fact is while it is a hazard it such a low number of gallons compared to the ocean to even calculate. How about the oil leaking from many old cars onto the streets ? It is an island and by nature will create some pollution.

    I would gladly helped with a few hours had I known about it and been there.

    Some people just can’t wait to kick a person down on luck.