Walker's Island satellite.png

The proposal by the owners of Walker's Island to allow them to essentially dredge a new channel in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was unanimously voted down by the County.

Developers:  Let us Dredge … or else?

The protection of nearshore waters is critical and important to Last Stand.  When the owners of Walker’s island (just north of Duck Key) asked Monroe County to change long-established laws prohibiting dredging so that they could dredge a deep channel through a thriving seagrass meadow to accommodate larger boats “or else” they would prop dredge their way to their newly built houses despite the fact that propeller dredging is illegal under several different laws, Last Stand joined several other Keys’ organizations and citizens in vehemently opposing such deregulation.

Dredging Prohibited in Monroe County

Monroe County’s Comprehensive Plan prohibits dredging in areas containing seagrass meadows.

Monroe County’s Comprehensive Plan prohibits dredging in areas containing seagrass meadows.  In order for the Walker Island developers to achieve their goal, a Comprehensive Plan text amendment was required.   The proposal was publicly promoted as a “seagrass restoration” project (it called for mitigation attempts through replanting of seagrass in other areas).  Dredging was barely mentioned in presentations and for those not paying attention it was easily passed off as a side issue.  Despite a public outcry for more time to study the proposal, the Monroe County Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners to lift the prohibition in the Comprehensive Plan.

Walker's Island Protected by Federal and State Laws

The waters surrounding Walkers Island (and virtually all of Monroe County) were designated as The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990.   In addition to sanctuary protections the area has a designation as an “Outstanding Florida Water (OFW) and is worthy of special protection because of its natural attributes. Waters are designated OFW to prevent the lowering of existing water quality and to preserve the exceptional ecological and recreational significance of the waterbody.”

Dredging and induced boat traffic would have a negative impact on water quality and ecology preservation.

Seagrass meadows are essential in maintaining water quality, supporting fisheries, and are necessary to the health of coral reefs.

US Fish and Wildlife states that “from the 1920s to the 1960s, Florida’s coastal zone underwent tremendous alterations as a result of the lack of proper management of its explosive population increase…Channels were dredged through seagrasses to provide navigational access to and from waterfront properties…Such rampant dredge and fill activities resulted in the destruction of seagrass beds throughout South Florida.”

The Florida Keys and their environs have a long history … of exploitation

The FKNMS 2011 Condition Report reports that “The Florida Keys and their environs have a long history (>100 years) of exploitation, thus many pressures on sanctuary resources are chronic….  Resource managers are working to conserve pieces of the former system so that it can be restored to an improved (pre-exploitive) state.”

The Walker Island owners’ argued that the area had been dredged 60 years ago (but then abandoned) and therefore had some sort of right to be “re-dredged” again. However, the very reason the sanctuary came into existence was to stop such “historical” activities and provide enhanced resource protection.

The Florida Keys chronic mismanagement of their natural resources is why they were designated an Area of Critical State Concern in 1974; that designation remains to this day. This status provides the Governor and Cabinet oversight on local land use decisions made by the local government. The purpose being to protect wildlife refuges, state parks, aquatic preserves, coral reef systems, and wetlands from adverse impacts.

Last Stand worked with Experts and Interested Citizens to Oppose Amendment

Last Stand, with the help of renowned environmental attorneys Richard Grosso of Nova Southeastern University and Jason Totoiu of the Everglades Law Center and expert marine biologist Curtis Kruer spent months pouring over aerial photographs, surveys, and old permit files and made a strong case in opposition to this change in the law which would have opened up the door to dredging anew throughout the Florida Keys.

The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously against the proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

A special thanks to Dottie Moses of the Key Largo Federation of Homeowners Association, Environmental Committee who worked with Last Stand on this issue; she was invaluable in her contributions to this cause.