Florida Keys

Keys bird center warned over ‘potential’ environmental violations

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center houses and rehabilitates injured birds.
The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center houses and rehabilitates injured birds.

State officials warned the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center last week about several “potential” environmental violations at the rustic Tavernier animal rescue facility.

The nonprofit group responded that the issues predate the present board and management, but steps are being taken to come into full compliance.

"The current FKWBC board and management were not present when the potential violations were created, but we recognize the gravity of the situation," John Stuart, board chairman, wrote in a letter Wednesday to Florida Department of Environmental Protection environmental specialist Bruce Frank. "We are an organization with high environmental standards and will work closely with the FLDEP to bring our facility into full compliance."

DEP sent a Feb. 22 letter to the mile marker 93.6 bayfront facility stating there are unauthorized structures and fill in the wetlands on the property.

The state agency also found structures on the property's conservation easement, sand from the pelican pen that is being washed into the wetlands and a drainage ditch dug into the wetlands that collects wastewater from the bird cages.

Jon M. Iglehart, director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s South District, called the letter a "warning" that is "part of an agency investigation."

The document was prompted by an inspection report issued earlier this month.

"There are also some structures in disrepair and construction debris in [the] wetlands," Frank wrote in his Feb. 3 report.

The state investigation follows similar warnings from Monroe County Code Compliance. Key findings in a Jan. 7 county report included a wooden walkway into the wetland area that doesn't have the required railing, unpermitted PVC water lines throughout the property, a staff toilet that is in a flood zone, an unpermitted bird feeding station as well as a number of other code violations.

A county biologist on Jan. 6 issued a report finding fault with the PVC pipe, unpermitted fill in the wetlands, an unpermitted pump that takes water from the bay and into the pelican enclosure and an unpermitted observation platform in the wetlands.

"Steps are also being taken to remove several of the structures in question," Stuart wrote.

It's been a rough few months for the center, starting with a controversial staff shakeup that saw the departure of the facility's chief rehabilitator last summer.

Then in late November, thieves broke into the center and its bird hospital about a mile to the south. The raid netted the thieves more than $50,000 worth of equipment, including an almost brand-new pickup truck.

Monroe County Sheriff's Office detectives are still investigating the burglaries.