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Protect Your Right to Water Access

Who is Killing Our Water Access?
By Jim Lowry (

According to The Osgood File, “Over the past few decades, the Florida Keys have experienced a development explosion. Once home to approximately 10,000 people who largely resided in sleepy fishing villages, the Keys are now home to some 85,000 year-round residents, with an additional 2.5 million people visiting every year. “

The Florida Keys Keynoter states, “Boot Key Harbor is one of Marathon''s last bastions of truly affordable housing and home to a large portion of the city''s workforce.” Past city leaders tried to limit access within Boot Key Harbor. The boaters fought back, and the liveaboards remain—but for how long?

But this isn’t just about Marathon, the Keys, or the state of Florida. It is about losing our access to the water around the country. It’s about decreasing the availability of waterfront property necessary to sustain commercial-fishing and recreational boating activities.

It’s about losing millions of dollars generated in state and local tax revenue. It’s about people losing their livelihood on the water and the use of the water as affordable housing.

It has been stated, “Cay Clubs, owned by former Mariner''s Club and Earthmark CEO Dave Clark, opened for business just last summer. But already it has made its mark throughout the Keys and other parts of Florida … “

Frank Rego, Cay Clubs Vice President of Operations, recently stated in Keys Sunday, “The laid-back atmosphere of the Keys needs to stay, because that’s the big draw for tourists” Rego rejects the idea that the company will hurt working people.

But the Cay Clubs are not helping the working people either.

The Web site for their property, Lighthouse Cay Club, claims the property is a “full-service marina,” yet they have not opened any dinghy docks or facilities for the working class living on the water. Nor do their properties allow for maintenance and repairs or public boat launching.

According to the study, “Working Waterfronts” (Report Number 2005-122. Prepared for the Florida Senate By the Committee on Community Affairs), “Changes in Florida’s economy and land use may be affecting the economic viability of commercial-fishing and recreational working waterfronts.

It is reported that, increasingly, development interests are buying traditional working waterfronts and converting them to private and residential use. “Water-enhanced” and “water-related” activities are replacing traditional or “water-dependent” activities.

This has the effect of both decreasing the availability of waterfront property necessary to sustain commercial-fishing and recreational boating activities…”

And according to a recent article in the University of Florida News (08/18/2005), “Access to marine waters is a finite resource, because there’s only so much coastline,” said Robert Swett, an assistant professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “In Florida, the number of registered boats has increased at a faster rate than the number of people, so it’s in everybody’s interest that we maximize the use of our public boating facilities. ..

From the standpoint of the local economy, the best option often is to have boaters keep coming back to the same area,” Swett said. “Low-cost public ramps and docks are great incentives,…”

But it is not just the Cay Clubs, the Singh Co. or the Spottswood Co. driving out those who earn their livelihood on the water, or use the water as affordable housing, or need access to the water.

No, the developers just take what they are given.

And who is giving these companies our waterways, our water access? I can first tell you, who it is not.

It is not the courts. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public,

Even if the property is not blighted and the new project''s success is not guaranteed. The key here is “when officials decide it would benefit the public”

Also in the “Working Waterfront” study, it is stated that, “a recent study commissioned by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found that: “Statewide, the total economic impact of public boat ramps is approximately $1.3 billion per year….

In addition to the economic impact, over 25,000 jobs are created statewide and approximately $128 million generated in state and local tax revenue”

As you can see, over a weekly, monthly or yearly period, water access provides far more state and local tax revenue than dockominiums, or luxury condominiums with private docking facilities.

So who is giving away our water access? Your city, county, and state government and YOU.

Yes, that’s right, you. You have to stand up for your rights, now given to you by the Supreme Court of the United States. Your city and county must stand up and demand public water access from new developments—to benefit the public.

You often hear people talking about a problem, yet seldom do you hear them offer a solution. Now you will hear a solution.

First you need to stop talking and start taking action as an individual. Write to your city, county and state leaders. Stand before your city and county meetings. But don’t just talk:

Support your view with legitimate facts. Have handouts for each member as well as the press.

Second, all of the “boating interests” need to pull their lobbies under one umbrella, pulling together the voting blocks.

And third: Start using the Supreme Court’s ruling to your benefit.

In this regard, I personally am willing to work with any attorney, who is willing to fight for water access that benefits the public, be it in Marathon, Monroe County, the state of Florida or anywhere in the United States of America.

Surely there must lawyers who want to protect ours and their rights to water access.

The court has given you the power to file suit against both local governments and developers, if the development does not benefit the public. Be it in Marathon, Key West, Ft. Myers, Virginia, Maine, or anywhere in the country, you can stand up and win.

But you must stand up. Just thinking about it won’t work. You, yourself must step up and take a stand.

We took that stand in Boot Key Harbor and the Live Aboards remain.
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