The “beaches” of Islamorada weren’t totally trashed during day one of the long Fourth of July weekend.
That initial report indicates some success for the temporary measures put in place by the Village of Islamorada at a state-owned roadside area popular with weekend and holiday tourists. In the past, they have often left the area a mess during holidays.
The beaches, collectively known as the Indian Key, Tea Table and Lignumvitae fills, connect Upper and Lower Matecumbe keys. They have long been an issue for local and county officials, who don’t own the land but maintain it, police it and have to clean it up when day trippers and weekenders leave.
Items left behind often include bottles and cans, food containers, dead fish, grills and even human waste. The fills are owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and the boat ramps there by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The state gives Islamorada a stipend of around $55,000 to reimburse it for maintaining the fills but a recently-released village Public Works estimate shows keeping the area up actually costs around $450,000 annually.
Following local outcry after a particularly problematic Memorial Day weekend, the state allowed the village to enact temporary strategies aimed primarily at limiting parking at the fills, which they hoped would have a trickle-down effect on problems like littering and excessive partying. If July 4 is prologue, it looks like the plan worked.
“Village staff who were present yesterday said it went very well,” Village Councilman Ken Davis said in a Facebook post Friday. “People cleaned up after themselves and were appreciative of the more disciplined setting.”
Until Sunday, parking is only allowed on four paved areas, which are able to accommodate around 15 vehicles each. Typically on a busy weekend, hundreds of cars are parked along U.S. 1 at the fills, creating congestion and accidents, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay contends.
There are “no parking” signs in other areas, and vehicle access is blocked by a series of 900-pound barriers, according to a Village of Islamorada press release. Cones, ropes and tape are in place to prevent parking on bike paths along the highway.
To prevent littering, the village placed dozens more 55-gallon trash cans at the fills, as well as two more dumpsters to complement the two already there.
For at least the rest of the month, the village placed six portable toilets at the fills that will be emptied twice a day, according to the press release.
In the meantime, the village is applying to lease the area from FDOT so plans like the ones put in place over this weekend could be permanent.
FDOT has also completed a traffic study at the request of Ramsay, who wants the entire section of U.S. 1 along the fills, from mile marker 77.5 to 80, to be reduced from 50 mph to 45 mph. Ramsy’s been lobbying for the speed limit reduction since March 2018, after four tourists from Spain were killed there when their rental car was rear-ended by a truck and pushed into oncoming traffic.
At the time, the speed limit was 55 mph, and Ramsay was able to get FDOT to lower it by five miles. FDOT has not released the results of its latest traffic study.
Ramsay said Friday that he’s pleased with how July 4 played out at the fills, but more needs to be done to make the area cleaner and safer.
“We have made a lot of progress, but more progress is needed,” he said in a text message. “I want to thank everyone who worked on this at all levels for positive changes.”