Apr 212017
 


Wisteria Island wanna-be developers are at it again… see video.

For more of our Wisteria Island coverage click 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.
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 6:25 pm * Featured Story *, Issue #215  Add comments

  15 Responses to “Wisteria Island: Fake News Alert!”

  1. From following everything about this island I thought the battle was over and it never belonged to Florida , so any sale of it was illegal. From what has been shown it is federal land. As to the people living on it , no proof has been shown as to who is trashing it. Yes likely some of the homeless just might be trashing it but lets not ignore that trash falls of boats every day and can end up on land. Been on dozens of sunset cruses and yes accidents do happen and food and cups fall into the water.

    I do hope this ownership issue comes to an end and perhaps as federal land it could be a solution to a much wanted nude beach. Proof that a nude beach is safe can be seen at Haulover beach. This could increase tourism and bring in major dollars and be out of sight to non nudist.

    No matter how rich Berstein is the simple fact is this is not his island and never will be. Would rather see it remain as it is than see another sunset key for the rich.

    And before the county arrests anyone it best figure out who owns it.
    Sure if anyone on the warrants list is found on it then do your job and arrest them. Most living on that island are homeless because of the low wages paid in KW. It has been this way for many years with the boats around it. And on each visit we see even more boats. Just maybe they are part of the trash issue.

  2. Another superb work of investigative journalism by The Blue Paper!

    Shame on the mainstream media that continues to publish whatever lies and false allegations they receive, with zero effort to verify the information.

    How doubtful is it that the Citizen columnist created the 12 active warrants from his/her imagination? What would be the source other than the Sheriff”s Department?

    As a juror, how much credence will you give the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department testimony and evidence in any trial now that you have watched the Sheriff himself publicly misstate the facts about the alleged criminal haven Wisteria Island in front of the County Commission?

  3. Naja, this alleged former Alabama practicing attorney sez:

    If I wuz State Attorney Dennis Ward, I’d be very reluctant to prosecute a trespass case knowing the jury would receive evidence that who owns the island, the Bernstein family, or the U.S. Government, is up in the air legally.

    I would be reluctant, because I would have to prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and how can I do that, when ownership is not known beyond a reasonable doubt, and one of the alleged owners did not authorize the trespass arrest?

    I do not think the jury would be allowed to determine who owns the island. but then, this is Key Way West of Weird ….

    Even so, if I were State Attorney Ward, I would not care to prosecute in those troubled legal waters. I could end up being made a fool of, by a jury. I could end up getting sued for malicious prosecution. So could the Sheriff end up getting sued, for false arrest and imprisonment. Sued in civil court. For lots of MONEY.

    If I were State Attorney Ward, would I be worried about pissing off voters, if I did not prosecute squatters and visitors when both alleged owners of Wisteria Island did not authorize the Sheriff to arrest trespassers and me to prosecute them?

    A few Bernstein camp voters vs. thousands of voters who want Wisteria Island staying the way it is? Thousands of voters, who will be happy for the US Government to end up with the island.

    I am one of those voters, who would like to see the US Government end up with the islan.

    Yes, that would end the island being a free campground and playground for people who live on and visit the island for free.

    That also would end the island being trashed by the people who live on and visit the island.

    Jiminkeywest’s says people throw stuff off their boats into the water, which I know does happen, but it does not work that that debris washes up onto Wisteria and then makes its way farther onto the island and even into its interior.

    The sad fact is, and I see this on the public lands in the city, there are plenty of litterbugs here, and, sadly, homeless people are mostly who litter the public parks.

    Some years ago, Theo Glorie, who owns, with his wife, Coffee Plantation, was said to have spearheaded a cleanup Wisteria operation, which carted barges of trash off of the island. Theo’s operation made the Citizen front page, more than once, as I recall.

    I myself walked Wisteria in 2009, with a friend who was in Bernstein’s camp, wanting Wisteria turned into what I and other people called “Sunset Key Deux”. We got to Wisteria in my friend’s skiff. The purpose, obviously, was to win me over to Bernstein and the Walsh family, who own Sunset Key.

    Fat chance. I told my friend the island reminded me of wild places I where I had hunted back in Alabama. I said, leave the island alone and it will be beautiful again, as vegetation on the island grows older.

    When we returned to his skiff, I said I’d like to go around Sunset Key, which I had not yet set foot on, and still have not set foot on it. So, around Sunset Key we went in my friend’s skiff.

    My friend then asked me what I thought of Sunset Key? I said, the architecture looks all the same. There is not one indigenous plant on it. All the vegetation on the island was trucked down from south Florida plant nurseries. The island looks like a plastic surgeon made it.

    A few years prior, probably 90 percent of the Australian pines died on Wisteria.

    It later was said, Hurricane Wilma’s tidal surge covered Wisteria and killed the nearly immortal Australian pines. But the Australian pines elsewhere in Key West and the lower Keys, which were covered by the same tidal surge, did not die.

    It also was said, before the Australian pines on Wisteria Island died, aircraft dropping some kind of fine material had been seen flying over the island.

    I swan, I could not help but wonder if someone wanted to develop that island, which had a beautiful Australian pine forest, so someone killed the pines, turned the island ugly, prelude to filing a development plan with the city of Key West, along with a petition for the city to annex the island?

    From Wikipedia:

    “Annexation attempt
    “In April 2007, F.E.B. owner Roger Bernstein formally requested that the city of Key West annex the island, which had been considered a portion of unincorporated Monroe County.[8] This would have allowed 168 units to have been built on the island, due to the denser building codes of Key West compared with those of Monroe County.[9] On May 1, 2007, the Key West City Commission, in a 5–2 vote, approved the first reading of an ordinance calling for the annexation of the island. Public opposition soon mounted and the second reading was tabled several times while voters gathered signatures for a petition opposing the high-density development plan. By July 10, 2007, over 3,000 signatures had been collected.
    “In a Key West City Commission meeting that evening, attorneys for Christmas Key Management Corporation announced that F.E.B. was withdrawing its request to have the island annexed to the city of Key West. At the same meeting, opponents of the plan announced that they would seek the inclusion of a non-binding referendum on the issue in the October 2007 city elections in order to gauge city support for curtailing development.[10] One week later, a motion to include the referendum in the October 2 Key West City election ballot was turned down after several citizens and City Commissioners questioned its necessity after F.E.B. withdrew its annexation request.[11]:”
    “In the wake of the failed county [counter?] proposal, Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson proposed that the city of Key West purchase the island for conservation purposes. The idea, which was discussed in several City Commission meetings, was eventually tabled and the subject dropped.”

    That, along with other city commission city land issues, then prompted a petition drive for a referendum to change the city’s Charter, so that the city could not buy or sell or otherwise acquire or dispose of land, without a voter referendum approving the transaction. That referendum passed by about 70 percent, as I recall.

    After which, the Bernsteins, turned to the county government to help the Bernsteins bypass that Key West referendum.

    County growth management staff and the county planning board entertained the Bernstein-Walsh Wisteria development proposal as if the City of Key West and its referendum, and its various city services the development would need to work, were not even part of the equation.

    Finally, county mayor Sylvia Murphy led the charge during at a county commission meeting in Marathon, when the 2 male commissioners, George Neugent and Mario Di Gennaro, were away doing something else, to require county staff to poll the City of Key West on how it felt about Wisteria being developed?

    Ooops. The Key West city commission then voted no, unanimous.

    Even if the county commission now, de facto (sticks it neck out a country mile), recognizes the Bernstein title claim, the city commission will not let the Bernsteins have the city services the development would need.

    Police, fire and rescue. Public parking. Water. Sewerage collection and treatment. Electricity. Dockage.

    The city voters will burn down new city all, if the city commission looks like it is going in that direction.

    Back to Wisteria Island and what it needs, as opposed to what the Bernsteins and the squatters on the island think the island needs.

    That’s the core question, is it not?

    What does the island need?

    What does Mother Nature need?

    Not, what does the invasive species, humans, need?

    Neither the Bernsteins, nor the squatters and day visitors, respect the island.

    The Bernsteins want to turn the island into Sunset Key Deux.

    The squatters and day visitors trash the island.

    I see one way to protect the island and Mother Nature, and include the invasive species.

    BLM takes charge of the island, hands it over to the National Parks Service, which puts a manned ranger station on the island, and turns the island into a public park, with tent camping pads, modern “outhouses”, cold water showers, electricity, etc., for which visitors pay a reasonable free to step foot on the island, and another reasonable fee to tent camp there, as happens in all Florida state parks.

    There could be a small concession stand/convenience store/gift shop, which, among other things, sell’s Wisteria Island T-shirts, sun visors, flags, bumper sticker decals, etc.

    There are lovely beaches all around Wisteria Island.

    The beach on the other side of the island from Key West could be designated clothing optional, to cater to the local nature lovers, and to the millions of “naturists” elsewhere, who currently flock to Halover Beach just above Miami. Flock there with their MONEY. Google image Halover Beach, see what Key West is mi$$ing out on.

    As for Barton Smith … if his lips are moving …

    • perfect solution and dam good chance the feds would hand it over to the park service.

      As to nudist you must understand many other countries have no issue with nudity.
      Check out Pasco county for nudist resorts and your in for a major shock. Many simply prefer to swim nude and is not about sex.

      The trash issue is a tough problem and not at all sure who is creating it or is it just a total of many. See no reason beer could not be sold same as it is at ft zac.

      This could be a major win for everyone. Not sure if the boats would have an issue.

      But for now am not seeing a serious issue with that few campers. Leave them alone till a park is created.

      And having just part of the beach designated clothing optional would be great.
      Trust me nudist spend millions.

  4. P.S. To the extent the science is there, electricity at Wisteria public park is provided by solar panels.

    The park is a booze/drug-free zone.

    A ferry, city or private own, takes people out to the park and back, during the day. Not at night. The park does not need I got drunk on Duval Street campers there at night.

  5. Two vital stories here, one happy, one sad.

    So glad to see Wisteria well-used by The People, taking care of the island better than it was under Bernstein’s ownership, better than the surrounding detritus-filled islands.

    So sad to see our once-reputable daily paper increasingly in the bag cheerleading whatever big-money, crooked-government development project is in the works. Hooray for the Sheriff’s dept for honest facts (though shame for not correcting The Citizen), and hooray for the State Attorney for standing up for the law.

    • The sheriff does not seem to have many facts. And he has no right to say who is trespassing until he has proof in hand of who the owner is. Then and only then can he arrest anyone on the charge of trespassing if the OWNER asks him to do it. The true problem here is some are upset that a dozen or so people are using the land as a free shelter. So is the real issue here just the trash ? Or just another reason to try to force homeless out ?

    • As far as I can see the Bernstein family never owned that island. At best bought a deed from the state that did not own it. So at best they trying to claim ownership of stolen property. That so called need is worthless.

      But as always with enough bribe money this could all change. We are talking about millions so plenty of room to bribe.

      STEP ONE is to prove who owns the land. The last thing KW needs is more snobs like you have on Sunset key.

      With all the money being spent to create more parks here is a perfect solution and might even help the homeless. They could stay on boats and visit each day. Set up a yearly pass fee for locals or charge by the day.

      The Bernstein family does not need more money and this is likely the last chance for a huge much needed park.

  6. How fitting that a lying sheriff and an attorney– who sets the standard for serial lying — were addressing a County Commission full of liars.

    How repulsive that the Key West Citizen is party to this gang of thieves.

  7. This story seems a bit disingenuous considering everything I’ve read about this island. You have produced a video showing a peace-loving, guitar and flute-playing, environmentally-conscious daytime population with children skipping to the ocean. That’s not the way this blog tells it: http://www.sundownersailsagain.com/misadventures-christmas-tree-island.

    • Thanks for your input. Our story shows Wisteria Island and the people found there – this week. There are indeed peace-loving, guitar and flute-playing, environmentally-conscious persons who currently frequent Wisteria Island. These people also frequent the island at night. They are not afraid to go out there and to bring their children out there. Of course criminals can show up anywhere, Wisteria Island included – we did not intend to claim otherwise. Our story is about the Sheriff’s department EXAGERATING the criminal element on that particular piece of land, directly in their written and verbal reports to the Commission and others, and indirectly by standing by while the daily paper published false information about the criminal element out there [attributed to the MCSO] – not once but FOUR times. This story is also about the efforts of a developer to manipulate public officials, to the point of stating they wanted the Attorney General to intervene and replace our State Attorney with a special prosecutor so that the Sheriff will no longer be blocked by our State Attorney from helping the developer get his trespass case in front of a court [where he can affirm his title and thereafter move forward with his plans to make hundreds of millions of dollars by developing the island]. The blog account you refer to doesn’t refute anything found in our story and since law enforcement was called, and according to the blogger did not press charges based on the girl’s accusations, it doesn’t actually provide any additional evidence of criminal activity on Wisteria Island. It does recount the experience of a what appears to be a couple of easily spooked sailing “adventurers.”

  8. Never, as in forever, forget Bernstein’s field general for Wisteria Island has been Jim Hendrick (behind the scenes), and Hendrick tutored Barton Smith in land use law …

    Never, as in forever, trust any developer in Key West or the Florida Keys. to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but about his/her proposed development – if a developer’s lips are moving, then …

    Same for a developer’s land use planner …

    And for a developer’s lawyer …

    And for most elected officials, when a development is involved …

    County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy set the gold standard …. If Barton Smith wants the county commission to pass something, then it has to be bad for the county and she votes against it …

    Naja and Arnaud are dear friends of mine .. But for them, and a band of angels who told me in a dream to tell Naja to keep digging, there was something there about the title to Wisteria Island she had not yet found, Wisteria now would be Sunset Key Deux …

    I first proposed the park described in my earlier comment during the 2009 city mayor’s race … before the lawsuit in federal court to contest the title, which at that time was still generally thought to lie with the Bernsteins …

    I suggested the Bernsteins swap Wisteria Island to the city, for it to be a public park in perpetuity, and in exchange the city would lease a few acres of Truman Waterfront. for $1 a year, for a long time, to the Bernsteins and their Wisteria development partners, the Walsh family, which ownedSunset Key and the Westin, and quite a few posh hotels up the US eastern seaboard, on which Berstein/Walsh would build another posh hotel and marina, and the city would receive, off the top, 1 percent of the hotel/marina’s gross revenues each year.

    Under the city’s Charter, both ends of that swap would require a voter referendum to approve it.

    I suggested forming a Wisteria Island Society, which had its own t-shirts, flags, decals, etc., which were sold in a shop on the Island.

    I suggested the ferry running back and forth to the island.

    I suggested day use and night time camping, and the clothing optional beach on the west side of the island, out of the city’s view.

    Guess what?

    Right.

    The blue paper, then run by Dennis Reeves Cooper, did not cover or report my proposal.

    Nor did the Key West Citizen.

    Nor did the Keynoter.

    Nor did US 1 Radio. Nor any other radio stations.

    No news outlet, no rag, no mullet wrapper, but my goodmorningkeywest.com and goodmorningfloridakeys.com, covered my Wisteria swap proposal.

    Even the local naturists (nudists) were quiet, because I had pissed them off by saying they were pissing people off with their attitude.

    The Key West city commission looked at me like I was daft, when I laid it out during closing citizen comments from time to time at city commission meetings.

    However, when, at a county commission meeting in Marathon, I told local super smart bad-ass lawyer Michael Halpern about my proposal for Wisteria-Truman Waterfront swap, he said it was brilliant.

    It looked to me like a no-brainer.

    No longer, since now BLM claims ownership. But then, perhaps BLM would like to be shed of Wisteria, which I am pretty sure BLM views as a red-headed step child. Perhaps BLM would love to “quit-claim whatever title it might, or might not own, in Wisteria, to the City of Key West, for a public park. That also would require a city referendum approving it.

    Alas, the city would only acquire what State Legislator Papy acquired, when he was given a trustee’s deed by the State to Wisteria. Only what title, if any, the State then owned in Wisteria. Then, the city and the Bernsteins would be squabbling over Wisteria, with city having nothing of value to swap, which the Bernsteins’ might want, due to Truman Waterfront now being terraformed into a public park the city will spend close to $60 million on knowing the park will not pay for itself, nor even for its annual upkeep.

    A confederacy of dunces now facing an 800 pound gorilla – BLM.

    Back to Arnaud and Naja.

    Once again, they shined the light on what was hidden, which the dark-loving creatures did not appreciate.

    However, I believe Naja and Araud should have disclosed that they once were one of the boat families moored next to Wisteria. The island was their and their children’s playground. They love the island and those memories, and I don’t blame them. Their experiences and love of Wisteria Island lies at the root of their efforts to protect the island from development.

    However, perhaps those same cherished memories and love cloud Arnaud and Naja laying into people who use the island, trashing it. People using the island have trashed it for a very long time. Ergo, people using the island will continue trashing it. That, alone, asks BLM to take over and run the island properly, with the Bernstein’s consent, as long as the title is disputed.

    And, yes, there is deep resentment in Key West, especially, to people living free of rent, mortgage payments. But, that’a not the issue I’m looking at. The issue I’m looking at is Wisteria Island needs protection from people, as well as from developers and their planners, lawyers and captured elected officials, who can be likened to lion fish, iguanas, carpetbaggers, scallywags, etc.

  9. Wisteria is a beautiful, natural island. Compared to conventional, boring Sunset Key, Wisteria is a breath of fresh air, filled with nature. Several months ago with Naja, Arnaud and others we cleaned up Wisteria. I was fortunate to get to meet and work with most of the “criminal” residents! They all had begun the clean up before we had even arrived to continue their clean up, and shuttle what had been picked up back to the mainland. The residents of the island could not have been any nicer and helpful – what I would describe as just ‘good’ people who would probably do anything for you.
    Whenever Barton Smith’s name comes up you know it is about self-centered greed and money. Many people think the Bernstein family gave the land on Stock Island for Bernstein Park, but a county official told me differently some years ago. The sales price as I recall was several hundred thousand dollars.
    Back to the Wisteria Island clean up of several months ago, several of the residents treated to pizza and other treats at Naja and Arnaud’s house when the clean up was over. Those were some really scary people I met living on the island. And they were not self-centered, greedy, money driven empty souls.
    Now who would you prefer to consider a friend, or want as a neighbor? Those living peacefully with nature who help others and give of themselves to clean up an island – OR – those with an army of attorneys, who are always looking for a new angle to change the LDR’s, destroy a beautiful island all in the name of development and money? So WHO are the real CRIMINALS?!

  10. Screw the Bernsteins, they do not have a title worth a penny to this island. The best of lawyers can’t fix stupidity. When you buy property in Florida today you best buy title insurance. Back then it was called an abstract of title and you hired a lawyer to look it over to be sure of ownership. Had this been done they would been warned the state did not own it so any deed was worthless. Greed has made them into a fool.

    Now lets move forward and see if perhaps this could be handed over for free as a park.
    No need for anything costly to be built. Just let it be a beach with some type of ferry to get to it. Small dock, restrooms and job finished. If need be the let the KW cops patrol it. Sure a small fee but lets start using it. This is the type of use the bed tax should be used for.

  11. I see only a few uses for Wisteria.
    1 . leave it alone and allow the homeless to camp on it. Other than if your on the island you will not see the trash. Let them figure out a way to self clean it. Seems that very few crimes are going on or the cops would be visiting it often.
    2. let the developers win and .destroy it to build for the very rich. And that in time might happen if enough bribes are paid. Key West would gain thousands from taxes and offer dam little in service or protection. Either way it is people living on the island, either the rich or the poor.
    3. turn it into a park and let it serve both residents and tourist. That would be the best choice and be of value to thousands rather than maybe a 100 homes.
    4. and this is unlikely, is wait to see if the navy finds a need for it.

    We need to stop giving a shit about the Bernsteins. Part of life is making mistakes and they lost. Clearly they have no legal claim or it would have been built up years ago.

    Maybe if your commissioners really gave a shit about the people they would take action to get this turned into a park either city, county or state ran. Am sure someone would love to set up another overpriced food, chair racket like Ft Zac has. So yes still a money maker but without the potential bribes they will not do it.

    The idea of a nudist beach is nothing new but no location has been found that would not offend non nudists. Now you have a perfect location that could make everyone happy and best of all not add ROGO’s and still have a nice view when going out on a cruise.