Sheriff: Close Wisteria Island at night

A “free library” set up among the encampments at Wisteria Island.
A “free library” set up among the encampments at Wisteria Island.

Wisteria Island, the remote spot off Key West, has become a squatters’ haven in need of a cleanup that begins with limiting public access to daylight hours only, Monroe County staff says.

County commissioners today will consider a proposal to seek a federal order closing off the island to people once the sun goes down in an effort led by Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay, who last year received a complaint that a man was sleeping with an underage girl on Wisteria and people were doing drugs as children milled about.

Ramsay has asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for an order closing the island during nighttime hours and the federal agency has asked the county commissioners to weigh in.

The commission meets today starting at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway, but the Wisteria Island item has a time approximate setting for 3 p.m.

Wisteria Island, also known as Christmas Tree Island, remains in an ownership fight between developers and the federal government. Without a clear owner, the land has been turned into a makeshift community by the homeless.

“The ownership dispute has complicated efforts by the Sheriff’s Office to protect the health, safety and welfare of many persons who wish to visit the island and utilize it for lawful purposes,” according to a memo by County Attorney Bob Shillinger in advance of today’s meeting. “A federal closure order would enable law enforcement to arrest trespassers found on the island during the closed period.”

One Wisteria Island resident, however, says there are positive things going on among the camps.

“We clean the island often and have run all the undesirables and heavy drug users off the island,” Jeep Caillouet, a Key West musician, wrote in Facebook messages to a Keynoter reporter. “Some of us are in the process of moving off, some not. No one still knows who owns the island though.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen