Nov 202015


by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

The State’s Variance Review Committee blasted the local Health Department, questioning officals’ apathy in letting the Boondocks Grill, Draft House and Miniature Golf on Ramrod Key expand and operate, for years, without requiring a proper sewage disposal system.

The landmark restaurant had a septic tank/leach field system permitted for 65 seats, but along the years they expanded the restaurant, increasing to 210 seats and paved over the leach field in the process.

The Blue Paper obtained the audio recording of the meeting held by the Variance Review Advisory Committee last month in Gainesville. The Committee was required to make a recommendation on a variance application that would have allowed Boondocks to continue operating in spite of a litany of violations.

Committee members didn’t disguise their outrage at the situation. The following is an excerpt from the transcript of the discussion that took place among the Committee’s seven members: [full audio recording at end of article]

“They continued to expand on this property illegally for years and now we find ourselves in this situation. The bothering thing that I have with this, as well as Todd, is: as the County Health Department, you’re passing by this everyday — how can you not…..” 

“Or at least once a year. I mean to be fair we don’t know if they drive past it once a – but if they are doing annual inspections – I am concerned why that was not —“

“That’s my question – [Don’t] most health units go in and check restaurant seating – to kind of roughly get a count?     I mean 65 to 200 is a lot different. If mean you put 10 more you might not notice but –”

“So what they’re proposing to do right now is: they want to keep the existing system and they do have some huge events here… What they want to do is they want to put in portable grease traps and they want to put in portable toilets to be able to handle those flows. Sewer doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to be available to them for some time. We’ve got objections from many property owners and restaurant owners down in that area regarding this. It is what it is.”

The committee chairman then began reading from the permit file, showing how Boondocks has been expanding over the years:

“Here we go,” (Many of the improvements come with an after-the-fact permit.) “After-the-fact asphalt, after-the-fact commercial building, deck, commercial building, um, bury 500 gallon propane tank, re-thatch tiki and mini golf, complete walk-in cooler. After-the-fact – AFTER-the-FACT – permit to replace existing cooler and replace bar… I mean there’s all kinds of stuff. These people have owned it for a very long time now.”

The Committee then discusses whether the DOH / Boondocks compliance agreement could possibly result in proper treatment and disposal of the effluent coming from the restaurant. (Local DOH had changed its wastewater flow estimate from the over 8,700 gallons per day required by code to under 5,000 gallons per day based on actual consumption of freshwater.)

The Committee did not go for it:

“You know, here they have all their little water meter readings. This is extremely misleading. Yeah, they’re open seven days a week right now, don’t know what they were open up years ago but we all know damn good and well you don’t have equal flows on equal days and we don’t figure up existing flows like this anyway. This is not a sewer system.”

“Plus they’re not taking into account the strength of the waste there.”

“ Yeah, they are not taking any of that into account.”

The “strength” of the sewage, in the world of pollution and public nuisances, relates to the concentration of pollutant in the effluent. 5000 gallons of wastewater can be mostly water, or it can be a highly concentrated pollutant if little water has been used.

In a phone interview, Boondocks owner, Lanny Gardner, indicated that he “minimizes the output in the kitchen and the bathrooms as much as possible” by using “low-flow equipment and waterless urinals.” This would result in a highly concentrated 5,000 gallons of wastewater per day.

“I don’t know how it’s working there at all. Its not treating 10% of what’s coming out of the building. It can’t be treating anything, its just shooting right through because there is no way – as small as that system is – that it can take care of it.”


“There’s no treatment time at all. “

“I can assure you of one thing: If you deny this somebody’s gonna do something.”

“Yeah, they don’t have a choice. They gotta do something and they have to do it pretty quickly.”

“You know, I ‘m not totally against denying it ‘cause I agree with everybody – its absolutely way overloaded and it shouldn’t be like it is – but I know there’s a lot of good people working there who need to buy groceries there too.”

“I don’t disagree with anything you said, but I still would just like for somebody to tell me how the hell they got this operating permit cleared by the health department. Its right here in the packet.”


“Our experience with the Monroe Building Department and the Monroe Health Department, is they’re pretty vigorous in looking at these things. I just don’t —   I’d say there’s other forces at work…”

“They were approved for 65 seats, right?”


“You know, I read further where its says 250.  I read further it says 300…. That’s a big difference.”

“Yep, and because it’s a huge facility right there and it’s not like its hidden back in the woods and you got to hunt it. So, I kind of feel like with that temporary agreement that that County Health Department made with them that we need to maybe send this thing back and say it’s been tabled and we want to know what the hell you plan to do cause you can’t continue like this. Is that plain?”

“It’ll be interesting to see where this one lands ultimately.”

“Ha-ha. I agree.”

“I can bet you a hundred dollars I know where it’s gonna land…”

The Committee voted to reject the DOH/Boondocks request for variance. Interestingly enough, whoever bet there were “other forces at work” got it right. Higher authorities in Tallahassee overrided the Committee’s decision. DOH’s Environmental Health Bureau Chief, Andrew Reich, decided to allow the Boondocks/DOH deal to move forward with a 150-seat capacity.

Lanny Gardner told The Blue Paper that “it is not a great situation,” but that he is “working his a** off with the people from DOH to make it work.” He is bringing in more porta-potties, portable grease traps, and two 1200 gallon holding tanks which contractors will be putting in place in about two weeks. “For five years they’ve been promising us this central sewer system,” says Gardner, “I built my business based on that promise.”

“That’s really not fair to all the other restaurants that did play by the rules,” says the environmental crusader who had brought questions about violations at the Boondocks to the DOH last April. “Mangrove Mamas, Square Grouper, Sugarloaf Lodge — they’ve all spent a lot of money to install DEP approved package [sewer treatment] plants.”

A petition has been filed challenging DOH’s decision to let Boondocks operate as a 150-seat restaurant until it hooks up to the Cudjoe Regional central sewer plant.

The Blue Paper sent multiple inquiries to DOH, asking where the Boondock’s sewage effluent has been going all these years. DOH has not responded.

According to FKAA Deputy Executive Director, Tom Walker, Boondocks should be able to go online with the Cudjoe Regional system by December 31, 2015.

Here’s the audio recording of the entire October 1, 2015 DOH Variance Review Advisory Committee meeting dealing with the Boondocks variance request:

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 November 20, 2015  Posted by at 1:06 am * Featured Story *, Naja and Arnaud Girard  Add comments

  17 Responses to “State: What the Hell is Going on in the Keys? Must be “Other Forces at Work””

  1. Yep….”other forces at work” alright. Welcome to Bubbaville.

    The inequality issue was briefly mentioned wherein other restaurants had to install package plants to comply with environmental regulations. That inequality issue will continue now in that the restaurants with package plants will have to hire an engineer to design a pump station that will work with FKAA’s bizarre high pressure “low pressure sewer.’ That is not so easy, because the entire collection system is based on slow pumping E-1 pumps that are not approved for commercial use because of the explosion hazard. But wait! Special deal for Boondocks! FKAA will install an illegal and dangerous E-1 pump station at public expense and maintained with your sewer rates (with no new DEP permits and no Building Department inspection) for Boondocks BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE A PACKAGE PLANT! Boondocks will save well over $100,000 because of their existing crime, while other restaurants will pay big dollars because they are responsible, law-abiding, in-compliance businesses. The thing that bugs me is not that Boondocks saves, it is that the other restaurants have to pay so much. And they will pay the same sewer usage rate as Boondocks but will have to maintain their own pump station, while Boondocks gets another bonus. Getting to the basics, the pump stations are an integral part of a pressure collection system and NOBODY should have to provide land or power or maintenance for a pump station. EVERYBODY should have a simple gravity connection at the property line and let the utility be responsible for how it gets from there to the treatment plant. And that includes No Name Key, BOCC.

  2. I am glad you didn’t let this die. When i read they reached an agreement and he was allowed to stay open i thought ok this will be swept under the rug. As the people say in the article lanny gardner knew what he was doing all along. Now we are supposed to feel sorry for him because he is working his ass off as he put it. Yes because you got caught.

  3. Is there any place in the world as dysfunctional as the Keys/Key West? I’m not talking N. Korea or Iran – maybe a few others. This is beyond sad – it is sickening – corruption at it’s finest. I’ve said this so many times before – CLEAN HOUSE! Get rid of the vast majority! But first we must recruit good, HONEST, INTELLIGENT people. The system HAS to change. THE PEOPLE need to reclaim their government!

  4. Way I heard it told by Naja the evil witch her own self, Boondocks called her crying “foul” (fowl) after hearing Naja’s interview with Bill Becker on US 1 Radio. The evil witch then did the most despicable thing, she fetched the audio of the Tallahassee public health folks and transcribed their illegal hearsay into the blue paper article today. That’s just not playing fair, Naja; now you will be accused of witching the Tallahassee folks long before you knew there were talking about other forces in play and betting on how it would turn out. Won’t surprise me if some people say you witched the people who overruled the good public health folks in Tallahassee, just so you could have something nasty to say about the health department, Florida Department of Environmental UnProtection and Boondocks, even before you knew anything about it. You really do need to park your crystal ball, broomstick and magic wand somewhere they won’t cause so much mischief, Naja. Although I imagine Halloween, thanks for shining heap light into this murk, rather likes the tools of your dark trade, and I rather imagine he has lots of company. Great comic relief, if it weren’t so dark stinky.

  5. Criminal charges are clearly warranted along with huge fines commensurate with the offense. Was widespread bribery involved?? Will DOH personnel be fired for shirking their duties protect public health and resources. What about NOAA and DEP — agencies charged with protecting nearshore waters from pollution — cmon’ guys, the restaurant is only 0.2 miles from Middle Torch Key Channel!!!!

    After reading Commissioner Neugent’s (aka Grinder Pump George) sanctimonious drivel in the recent Keynoter about the importance of the Keys environment, one has to laugh pitifully knowing that a pollution-spewing, high-profile restaurant is 3.5 miles from his office. Actions speak louder than empty words — even louder than a grinder pump alarm.

  6. Newsflash: Massive 100-pound lobsters with 6-eyes are being caught in waters next to Ramrod Key. NOAA and DEP scientists had no causal explanation, though one was overhead saying that “Shit happens.”

  7. Environmental Health Bureau Chief, Andrew Reich’s order violated Florida Statues in the following ways:

    1. The order approves operation with a reduction of seating to 150 persons.

    The table provided in F.A.C 64E-6.008 System Size Determinations used to estimate sewage flows establishes under food operations, Restaurants operating 16 hours or less per day shall be calculated at 40 gallons per seat.

    Florida Statues Chapter 381.0065(3)(b) limits the DOH jurisdiction to an estimated commercial sewage flow of 5,000 gallons or less per day.

    By allowing seating for 150 persons the order approves operation with an estimated sewage flow of 6,000 gallons per day which exceeds his department’s authority.

    2. The Footnotes to the Table I provided in F.A.C 64E-6.008 used to determine estimated sewage flows includes “Systems serving high volume establishments, such as restaurants, convenience stores and service stations located near interstate type highways and similar high-traffic areas, require special sizing consideration due to expected above average sewage volume. Minimum estimated flows for these facilities shall be 3.0 times the volumes determined from the Table I figures.”

    The location of the establishment is 27205 Overseas Hwy, Ramrod Key FL. 33042 which places it directly on an interstate highway.

    Overseas Hwy literally connects the States between Maine and Florida and it is the heaviest traveled road in Monroe County. No other road in Monroe County has a higher traffic volume since it reopened after the 1935 Hurricane.

    Using the special sizing considerations required by Table I the flow should be calculated at 120 gallons per seat.

    Thus, his order allows operation of the establishment with an estimated sewage flow of 18,000 gallons per day which exceeds his department’s authority.

    Boondocks should be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Protection, period. The problem is if they close Boondocks then the subject of an environmental damage assessment, clean up and serious fines begin.

    The local Department of Health will do everything in their power not to give up jurisdiction because Larry might start talking. If Boondocks closes and there was corruption then anyone who may have received payoffs and kickbacks would begin sweating.

    The local Department of Health drafted a Corrective Action Plan which allowed a maximum daily flow of 8,280 gallons into a system designed to treat 300 gallons a day and nobody including the Department of Environmental Protection objected.

    Florida Statues Chapter 381.0065(3)(b) limits the DOH jurisdiction to an estimated commercial sewage flow of 5,000 gallons or less per day. Using the required “special sizing consideration due to expected above average sewage volume” the Maximum allowable seats should be reduced to 41 in order to remain in the jurisdiction of the Department of Health.

    The environmental damage is real and continuing. They (Boondocks and DOH) estimate nearly 5,000 gallons is being pumped into a system designed to treat 300 gallons per day. The only reason there is not a visible septic nuisance is that it is being pumped 80 feet down out of sight.


    • To think that a restaurant has for years been making huge profits at the expense of water quality is beyond repugnant. That the establishment’s sewage has for years been fouling nearshore waters — waters deemed of such great importance that a National Marine Sanctuary was established for its protection — that DOH, NOAA and DEP have done nothing to remedy the situation, that no fines have been levied, that no firing (or even suspension or reprimand) of responsible agency personnel has occurred, and that elected officials have remained mute instead of demanding action, are the stuff of a Godfather script. A blatant, persistent environmental crime has been committed — has bribery been involved? Long overdue for forensic accountants and U.S. attorney involvement.

  8. Doris Palmer of Summerland Key, started a petition to “Stop Boondocks operating without sewer treatment”

  9. All signs of the decay of democracy. Everyone is corrupt. Just like the famous Hungarian Whore, ZaZa Gabor said, its all in the size of the price tag. It’s quite possible that the next currency will be ammunition.

  10. Are you suggesting bribes and corruption ? Hard to believe such a thing could happen in Monroe county or Key west.

    Problem is once the can get’s opened you never can seal it again. After investigation some will be lucky with just fines and not prison. Bribery is a felony for all involved.

    • The DOH Investigator General’s in Tallahassee has been looking into this matter since mid October.

      The local Department of Health has other skeletons in their closet which will come out once the administrative hearing on the matter is complete.

      They abdicated jurisdiction in their July 15th Notice of Violation only to agree to an Corrective Action Plan a few weeks later. I’m sure they realized that if Department of Environmental Protection closes Boondocks Larry would have nothing to lose.

      What I find confusing is how Department of Environmental Protection could knowingly accept a Corrective Action Plan which allowed a maximum daily flow of 8,280 gallons into a system designed to treat 300 gallons a day.

      I’m disappointed that the DEP has not stepped in put an end to this farce.

  11. When I first read Sloan Bashinsky comment about Bluepaper “Naja witching ” people I almost took it as a real complaint
    Now seeing it as tongue in cheek. Go Blue Paper!

  12. Naja & Arnaud,

    Excellent story. Extraordinary presentation. Thank you.

    Prioritizing the care of our fragile aquatic ecosystem has been absent for a long time. Seriously tending to the safeguards and needs of our environment, so that it might remain healthy enough to sustain life, appears to have been neglected by those charged with said duty.

    Hope this outstanding reporting triggers oversight by adjacent residents, as an investigation is formulated to examine this matter.

    Love, Blessings & Respect…

  13. Am I alone in thinking evidence is starting to disappear . That usually is sloppy and just get’s a deeper investigation. And as soon as one has nothing to lose they start talking. Willing to bet we will be hearing of dozens of violations. Sit back and enjoy the show.

  14. What happened to all the people who care about our environment? Where are the people who should be protecting our reefs from this? Boondocks has been pumping sewage straight into the aquifers for years why were they not fined or made to do a clean up. Maybe the Department of Health needs to look at themselves to find out what is killing off our national treasure. I enjoy visiting the keys like a lot of other people but the people of the keys need to let their voices be heard concerning this because as an outsider my voice will not be heard by the people in public office. Your voices will be heard if you speak out. I encourage all of you to sign the petition that is out there and let them know where you stand. The petition has been out for more than a week and has only 18 signers. Where are the good people of the Keys that care about their islands. Don’t let this continue to ruin your waters.

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