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Possible mooring field needs a base, county says

A former marine-mammal rehabilitation center on Key Largo could provide a base for a managed mooring field, Monroe County Commission members say. The Tarpon Basin property is tangled in an ongoing legal case.
A former marine-mammal rehabilitation center on Key Largo could provide a base for a managed mooring field, Monroe County Commission members say. The Tarpon Basin property is tangled in an ongoing legal case. FlKeysNews.com

With their eyes on creating a vessel mooring field in Key Largo’s Tarpon Basin, Monroe County Commissioners on Wednesday urged staff attorneys to increase efforts to acquire a former marine-mammal rehabilitation center.

“It would benefit us greatly to have that property,” County Mayor George Neugent said. “We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years now.”

County Administrator Roman Gastesi and Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said boat liveaboards in Tarpon Basin now clog a small dock at the Murray Nelson Government Center with more than a dozen dinghies. A few “troublesome” boaters reportedly have caused problems at a small park behind the office complex, they said.

“Some of the boaters out there, it’s a rough crowd,” Gastesi said at the Marathon Government Center session. “We’ve had a couple incidents with some of the folks. It did not feel warm and fuzzy, not like a county park.”

“Many times they bother the people who come there to watch the sunset or walk their dogs,” Murphy said. Sheriff’s Office deputies “do the best they can but they’re not there all the time.”

If the county had a land base to support a mooring-field operation, many issues could be resolved at a regulated facility, commissioners said.

County Attorney Bob Shillinger said he would work with his assistant attorneys to focus on resolving an unsettled ownership dispute on the Marine Mammal Conservancy property.

The three-acre bayside tract at mile marker 102.4 served as MMC headquarters for treating stranded whales and dolphins for nearly two decades. It has been unused for at least three years after the non-profit was unable to pay its mortgage and ran afoul of county codes.

Monroe County bought MMC’s mortgages of about $550,000 to prevent the property from being sold at a foreclosure auction, and has charged the former operators with about $700,000 of outstanding code fines. The MMC still has legal title to the property and has been fighting the county in court.

In other matters Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center session, county commissioners:

▪  Heard the century-old Harvey Government Center in Key West needs about $5 million in maintenance repairs and upgrades over the next few years, but consider that excellent news.

Said Commissioner Danny Kolhage, “This is a great outcome...We should thank our lucky stars we’re not having to replace the whole building.”

Interim project manager Cary Knight described the former school that was rehabbed in the 1980s as largely “solid, together and sturdy...The engineer is satisfied this building could last for years to come with proper maintenance.”

▪  Authorized a Sunshine Law lawsuit against the Sugarloaf Volunteer Fire Department over a cellular-tower contract the department board signed at an unannounced meeting in 2014. The suit may clear the way for the volunteer department to donate the fire-station site to the county, which plans to build a larger station.

▪  Agreed to reconsider a change in the county’s self-insurance plan which would have reduced a subsidy previously granted to several retired county staff members, including Sheriff’s Office personnel. The commission is seeking ways to eliminate a potential $3 million shortfall in the self-insurance plan.

Commissioners will review the insurance proposals during a 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Harvey Government Center during a special session on the new county budget.

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