A town hall meeting will discussing the mooring fields tomorrow

Emily Schemper, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s going on in the county.

A town hall meeting to discuss the proposed mooring field has been called by Commissioner Craig Cates and will be held tomorrow at 5 p.m. in Bernstein Park.

Schemper said, “We’re sort of beyond ‘proposed.’ This is happening. We’re working on permitting and everything. It is in the Boca Chica basin area, and that is to the east of Stock Island. It’s an area where a lot of boats anchor up already. We have heard some concerns from neighbors about the mooring field and the proposed shoreside facility that would service that. We want to make sure that people understand what the project is, what we’re proposing to do and really what the benefits of it will be. There are current problems with long term unmanaged anchoring and that’s both in general, all over the Keys, but also specific to this area. It ranges from the waterside impacts, seagrass damage, inappropriate anchoring and ground tackle, marine debris. You’d be amazed the amount of marine debris on the bottom there. Management of the trash, inappropriate shore side access, things like that. So we want to talk about the problems that this mooring field is supposed to help address and alleviate and then go through some of the design, the layout, what route will the boaters use to get to and from, the design of also the shore side portion of this and also take comments and questions and concerns. I think there are going to be representatives there from FWC, possibly the Coast Guard as well. My Marine Resources Director, Senior Administrator, I think is her actual title Brittany Burtner, she will be there and she really is our resident expert on this project and the big picture anchoring issues up and down the Keys.”

How many boats will the mooring field accommodate?

Schemper said, “The current design is for about 40 mooring balls. That could change because sometimes the specific design flexes when you make decisions about the size of the boat. So if we decide to maybe do some mooring balls for large boats that may reduce the overall number. But I think the number is still around 40. The shoreside facility is on a county owned property. We’ve been working on some zoning amendments needed for that and that’s where some of this public comment started to come out. That shoreside facility will have management on site and it will actually provide an official place for boaters to come ashore. So concerns that the neighbors have been having about people coming ashore at their docks or between properties, leaving trash places, not having a place to use the restroom, that all will then become managed at this site. We’re also proposing actually to put an onsite manager who actually lives in an apartment at that shoreside facility. So there will be someone there on site 24/7 once that becomes implemented, so I really think that it will help out a lot. It will have restrooms, showers, laundry, some limited parking. Stock Island it’s tough for parking, but obviously the boaters now they’re struggling to find a place to park so if they’re in the managed mooring field, there will be some parking spaces and we’re looking at the design of that. We’ll make sure that there’s bicycle parking and possibly the scooter size spaces or smaller vehicle spaces to try to accommodate the actual needs of that area of the Keys.”

What is the process to be able to have a boat at the mooring fields?

Schemper said, “There will be an application process set up once we get it in place. We have to put together a management plan just to get the permits. So we’re working on the details of that. I don’t have information about if certain people will get first priority at this point. But those are all considerations that will be handled in that management agreement. They’ll have to have a tenant agreement basically like a lease. There may be some fee associated with it to actually be in this mooring field on a mooring ball. But obviously you can see that there are benefits for the boaters as well to be in the managed mooring field.”

There is a Board of County Commissioners next week and a special ROGO meeting.

Schemper said, “At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, there is a ROGO special meeting. So we will be talking about the county rate of growth ordinance. As you know, there’s hurricane evacuation modeling that was updated by the state. Now the big question is, what does the county and the municipalities want to request or discuss with the state? How do we want to proceed in terms of what we want for the future of ROGO? We’re really trying to push a robust public engagement. We’re setting up meetings outside of the BOCC meetings, but probably at every Board of County Commissioners meeting for the next six months or so there will probably be at least one discussion item about different topics associated with this overall situation. How many more permit allocations can the Keys handle? How many do we want? What are the implications of more or less? So next week, 10am, for a couple hours, we’re going to kind of kick that discussion off, talk about ROGO, talk about the idea of takings liability, what does that really mean? Sort of an education session and talk about needs for land acquisition, because that’s been a big push over the last 10 years to try to buy up vacant land that may otherwise never be developed. So it’d be a good discussion. Then the regular meeting starts at one o’clock. So all of your normal agenda items, some public hearings, etc. Those will all start at one. We may run a little bit later than usual. But that’s the schedule for next week, Wednesday, March 20.”

The special meeting at 10 a.m. is also open to the public.

Schemper said, “We will take public comment during that meeting as well. It was sort of a an education session, but also a discussion with the county commission and time for public comment because we want to make sure we give as many opportunities as possible for public comment, whether it’s in a board meeting, or separate, individual meetings. Our strategic planner, Kimberly Matthews is arranging a lot of those meetings. Last month, she told people if you want to meet with me and talk about ROGO, and give your opinions, as a group or if you have a small organization or businesses, etc., please reach out to her.”

There will be a number of public hearings next week.

Schemper said, “Many of them are items that the commission has seen already at like a transmittal hearing, for example, so I don’t think they’ll be too long. But that meeting may run a little later than usual.”