Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne bans vessels from Mashta Flats sandbar off village

Dozens of boaters anchored off Key Biscayne on Sunday, May 25, 2014, atop an area in the bay known as the Mashta Flats. The area is an ecologically fragile flats, with sea grass beds.
Dozens of boaters anchored off Key Biscayne on Sunday, May 25, 2014, atop an area in the bay known as the Mashta Flats. The area is an ecologically fragile flats, with sea grass beds. Miami Herald File

Key Biscayne Council members voted last week to prohibit vessels from the Mashta Flats, a multi-acre Biscayne Bay sandbar located off the village.

The offshore sandbar, which has become a popular boat partying site, has seen a few tragedies. In September 2013, Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press’ daughter Danielle nearly lost her life in a boating accident in the Mashta Flats. In May 2014, Ernesto Hernandez, 23, died trying to help push radio personality DJ Laz’s boat off a sandbar. Last Columbus Day weekend, a swimmer was struck by a watercraft in a hit-and-run. The injured woman was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

A portion of the Mashta Flats falls within the jurisdiction of Key Biscayne. The village submitted a request to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a vessel exclusion zone and passed an ordinance.

The ordinance designates the flats as a swim area and creates a “vessel exclusion zone” and maintains a broad definition of the word vessel, but council members want to exclude only motorized vessels from the flats.

Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay said the ordinance could not distinguish between motorized vessels and non-motorized vessels, like canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, because the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would not approve the request unless all vessels were banned.

“A vessel is what it is and the definition is broad in the statutes,” Captain Gary Klein of the FWC said.

He would not comment on Key Biscayne’s request, but he cited Florida statutes and administrative codes that authorize municipalities to establish vessel exclusion zones.

Key Biscayne established the Mashta Flats as a swim zone. According to Klein, swim zones are a basis to establish vessel exclusion zones. Different exclusion zones allow prohibition of all vessels, motorized vessels only or manually-powered vessels.

In other business:

▪ The council approved a donation of $17,000 to the Key Biscayne Community Foundation for a cat trap-neuter-return program.

▪ The council selected a firm for a Stormwater Improvement Implementation Plan.

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