“Since 19-frickin-87!” Part 2
While the Fills has historically had major problems with partygoers ruining one of the Village’s most beautiful scenic treasures, since the Village leased the Fills three years ago, the Council has relied on traffic cones, and even voted to install guardrails, which are unnecessary and would further erode one of the region’s natural jewels.
Conversations around how to better police the area and restore its natural splendor have been incomplete, at best, with the Village unclear on FDOT’s (the leaser) position on whether guardrails are needed or not, or if additional signage could be placed around the site.
The Council’s best attempt so far was to discuss the possibility of adding kayak launches, moving boat ramps, trimming mangroves, and all other manner of actually inviting more visitors to the stretch of roadway.
Cutting through the confusion for the July 14, 2022, Council meeting was resident Sue Miller, who took it upon herself to write to FDOT directly and receive a clear answer on the town’s options. (Click here for FDOT’s answers) Remember, the Fills is technically owned by the Florida Department of Transportation – the Village leases it from them.
In short: FDOT said guardrails are NOT needed – or wanted. Permission IS required to make major changes and adding any metered parking WILL require Islamorada to pay a rental cost for use of the Fills.
However, Councilman David Webb would not accept any discussion of the FDOT email, claiming that the only discussion on the agenda was in reference to the orange cones. So it was back to Mark Gregg and whether the orange cones, the ugly orange cones, should remain or be removed. No solutions to the problem were suggested. Just more delay.
Residents won’t stand for it.
Not only did his carefully rehearsed setup of Henry fail, but Mark had little to offer in the way of his own solutions to ongoing problems plaguing the Fills.
His behavior, as well as others at the meeting, underscores how far Councilmen will go to ignore the real issues and engage in interpersonal attacks on the one person on the Council with any sense on this matter. It also shows how the public will see right through it.
Local citizens were far more succinct in their criticism of Mark for avoiding the difficult work of providing a solution.
“We’ve been dealing with this question since 19-frickin-87!” said one member of the public who wondered why the Village can’t put up ‘no parking’ signs, offer a towing lease to a local company to tow cars away, and put teeth into the parking tickets that are going unpaid. “This is a highway, it’s not a park. It’s always been a highway, not a park.
“Henry, let’s do something. I’m with you, brother,” he added.
Another resident was even sharper in her criticism of the commissioners.
“You need to stand up and deal with this instead of making it a running joke. It’s an embarrassment to see how every one of you has disrespected Henry at one time or another and disrespected us in this Village by ignoring it and not offering anything that’s concrete that can work.”
One Councilman, Buddy Pinder, did have a suggestion.
“I’ll tell you what, the way this has been going on, we inherited this,” said Buddy. “I’m of the mind to say, man let’s just terminate our lease and give (the Fills) back to FDOT. Hey, it’s something we inherited and we’re getting blamed for all this.”
We’re not sure how running for a seat on the Village Council translates to inheriting a problem, and how handing it back will resolve it, but we’ll be doing our research to find out.
As a reminder.
The public has been crystal clear. The vast majority of us do not want activity along both sides the two and a half mile stretch of US 1 affectionately called the Fills. No parking, swimming, partying, pooping, cutting the mangroves or crushing seagrass beds. So, the question then becomes: How do we accomplish that.
These two versions of a plan were the backdrop for the last Council meeting discussion, highlighted by that poignant observation from a resident attending the meeting. “I get the feeling from four of you, not Henry, that you’d rather just see this fail.”
A simple, straightforward, and doable plan.
Pete, Mark, Buddy, and David’s plan.
After wasting more than $55,000 this year with a consultant’s plan to turn the Fills into a real-deal destination spot along our environmentally sensitive American Scenic Highway, complete with bathrooms, grilling areas and pavilions, the public roared back: “Not no, but heck no!”
So, in June, a new plan came forward under Mayor Pete Bacheler’s leadership that includes:
With the introduction of legal parking with time limits and other activities in several areas along the Fills, “No Swimming,” “No Picnics,” “No Cutting Mangroves,” and “No Urination or Defecation” signs will need to be installed and a program established for handling those who disregard the signage. Garbage cans are a must. The lack of bathrooms will need to be addressed.