An area of North Key Largo, once home to sinking boats, unpermitted structures and trash that piled up for decades, is now an aquatic preserve.
The area is a private 22-acre property along Card Sound Road across from Alabama Jack’s restaurant and will now be known as the John Gautier Aquatic Preserve.
Monroe County public information officer Cammy Clark said county Code Compliance oversaw the cleanup of the land and waterway that once was part of the Historic Fishing Village of Card Sound but had become an environmental mess.
“It definitely was not the usual code enforcement case,” said Lisette Cutie, Code Compliance supervisor for the Upper Keys. “First, we had to get rid of squatters who had been living there for years. We also worked with the property owner. She inherited the big mess from her mother, who had no knowledge of what was happening on her property.”
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$4,718.49 in fines and administrative costs that accrued remain.
while the property was in noncompliance.
The area includes a 1.5-mile stretch along the Miami-Dade County side of Card Sound Road. Shacks and docks, all unpermitted, were built on the remote property. There was a thriving souvenir shop and fishermen eked out a living selling their catch.
Clark said John and Viola Gautier purchased the property in 1956 and allowed this use of the land without any compensation, according to their daughter Petsy Mezey. After her mother died, Mezey inherited discarded toilets, broken crab traps, hanging wires, rusted pots, decrepit docks, six derelict vessels, a sunken boat and a half-sunken houseboat. A handful of squatters and commercial fishermen were still living there.
In late 2012, Cutie notified the squatters that the cleanup was going to happen and they would need to move, Clark said. In early 2014, she opened her code case. Over the next two years, the cleanup came together with the help of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and private entities.
Ocean Consulting hired Kearns Construction to remove two dilapidated houseboats and a sunken fishing vessel as part of a seagrass mitigation project for development of a 10-slip private marina in North Miami. As part of the deal, Ocean Consulting will monitor the site for up to five years to ensure seagrass grows back.
Removal of the remaining debris was spearheaded by Fred Baddour of CRB Geological and Environmental Services and Joe Weatherby (the man behind the scuttling of the 520-foot former miliary ship Vandenberg seven miles off Key West in 2009) of the Artificial Reefs International Preservation Trust. They also did so for free for Mezey, enlisting the help of many volunteers. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and its volunteers also conducted cleanup operations on the site.
The original crab shack was allowed to remain due to its historic significance, Cutie said. Baddour’s group added new landscaping.
After the cleanup was complete in late August, Mezey donated the land to the nonprofit Artificial Reefs International Preservation Trust. Mezey also donated another 158 acres of mostly submerged land dominated by seagrass and mangroves for the aquatic preserve. It is prime habitat for birds, fish, crabs, shrimp manatees and crocodiles all found in Little Card Sound.