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There is a rumbles in Key West – school district and new pope selection post today at goodmorningkeywest.com. Meanwhile …
A little birdie had told me about two weeks ago to be on the lookout for this below, which arrived by email yesterday from another little birdie, who, it turned out, is on my email hit list. Sea bird’s-eye view of the scene of impending crime, cutting a new channel across a flat, currently not allowed.
The owners of a small island off Duck Key have asked Monroe County to amend its land-use plan to create a new category county planners are calling “redredging.”
The owners of Walker’s Key will meet tonight in Marathon to tell the public about their plan to dredge a 30-foot-wide-by-700-foot-long privately owned channel and the new dredging category.
The county’s comprehensive plan prohibits new dredging, only allowing maintenance dredging in areas without seagrass and hard-bottom habitats. for seagrass or hard-bottom habitats, maintenance dredging is only allowed in “public navigation channels,” constructed or kept by a federal, state and local government agency.
Little Conch Key Development wants to dredge the channel to Walker’s Island on the ocean side off Duck Key. The channel has seagrass beds, so the company proposed the new dredging category.
Altering the comp plan requires approval from the County Commission and the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees development in the Keys.
The Planning Commission recommended approval of the new dredging category when it met in November. County planning staff also recommends approval.
The development company’s biologist, Sandra Walters, says the project wouldn’t open the Keys to widespread dredging on private lands because each property owner wanting to do so would have to submit their own plan that would also need county and state approval.
“This will further the principles of guiding development,” Walters said. “[The comp plan] says to protect and restore, and this does both.”
Such projects also must be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection or the South Florida Water Management District.
“This is a long, arduous and expensive process,” she said.
The Walker’s Key channel was first dredged in the mid-1950s to about 5 to 6 feet, Walters said. The channel since accumulated extensive sediment, and currently the depth ranges from 0.47 feet to 2.86 feet, with an estimated average depth of about 1.5 feet, according to the county.
If approved, the county would allow the Little Conch Key Development Co. to dredge the channel no deeper than 4.5 feet, County Planner Mayte Santamaria said.
The Little Conch Key Development Co. also tentatively agreed to give to the state 26 acres of sensitive bay bottom and mangroves around the channel for a “conservation easement,” Walters said.
The meeting is at 6 p.m. today at the Marathon Government Center.
Citizen Blog comments
Channel dredging could set precedent
By KEVIN WADLOW
Posted – Wednesday, February 27, 2013 11:31 AM EST
A proposal to restore a 700-foot boat channel to a private development near Duck Key has an endorsement from the Monroe County Planning Commission but conservationists fear the precedent it would set.
For sure, a precedent would be set.
The project remains far from winning approval. Groups including the County Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and possibly the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have yet to agree.
“This is not something that’s going to stimulate more development,” said Sandra Walters, a consultant for Little Conch Key Development Corp. “This is a positive step toward solving a problem that already exists.”
The developers own the submerged shallow bottom leading to Walkers Island, where they have building rights for eight units.
“Our economy is the marine environment and that environment is deteriorating,” said Charlie Causey, an Islamorada angler and conservationist. “If we don’t protect the marine environment, we’re toast. Part of that is not tinkering with Mother Nature.”
A public-information meeting on the channel project, hosted by its backers, will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Marathon Government Center.
County planning staff recommended that applicants hold the session to outline the specifics and history of the proposal, which would amend the county’s comprehensive land-use plan to let people apply to re-dredge boat channels provided the bottom is privately owned.
Walters, who began developing the proposal in 2006, said the project would replant dredged seagrass taken from the channel, dedicate a 26-acre flat to a conservation easement, and improve markings to limit future boat groundings.
County staff backed an amended Walkers Island plan “as a balanced approach to protect the resources and give people the opportunity to restore access to their property,” said Mayte Santamaria, assistant director of Planning and Environmental Resources.
The county Planning Commission agreed on a 4-1 vote in November.
Monroe County commissioners are scheduled to hear the matter in a special April 18 meeting in Marathon on land-plan changes.
According to a county staff report, there may be 200 channels on privately owned bottom in the Florida Keys. Only a fraction of those likely could meet standards laid out in the Walkers Island proposal, Santamaria said.
Local, state and federal laws generally have banned dredging, both new and maintenance, for about two decades.
Changing that prohibition should not be taken lightly, critics say.
“If we want to protect our important shallow-water fisheries, we need to do everything possible to protect their habitats,” said Peter Frezza, an Audubon of Florida biologist and fishing guide.
“If we allow dredging across the flats, we’re not doing that,” Frezza said. “Dredging a channel will only enhance boating traffic by inviting more boats in.”
The Walkers Island channel apparently was dredged in the 1950s and not maintained since. It now is only a foot deep in spots and has regrown some seagrass, a county report says. The plan is to make it 20 feet wide at the bottom, less than 5 feet deep. The maximum width would be 35 feet. “There is a dock there and people are going to use the channel. If we don’t do anything, it will just get more torn up and scarred,” Walters said. “This is a proactive opportunity for homeowners to become responsible for the flats they own and protect them in perpetuity.”
Causey disagreed, “If we start slicing up the bottom, even if it sounds like a small amount, what is too much? There’s no formula. This is a precedent-setting deal that concerns a lot of scientists and fishermen.”
As it darn well should.