Key Biscayne

Key Biscayne asks FWC for help in policing weekend offshore mayhem

Key Biscayne’s mayor and police chief pleaded for the help of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday to combat what they call a public safety emergency in the shallow waters off their island village.

Three people have died and many others have been injured over the past several years amid a swarm of partying boaters gathered on weekends and holidays on the Mashta Flats.

The village council gave final approval Tuesday night to an ordinance designating 12 acres within its jurisdiction a no-motor zone where sailboats and paddle craft could navigate freely but motorboats would have to keep engines turned off. Mayor Frank Caplan and Police Chief Charles Press appealed to fish and wildlife commissioners at their Fort Myers meeting for advice and endorsement — plus additional personnel to help patrol it.

“What we’re hoping for is the continued presence of the FWC on weekends. We need your help,” Press told commissioners. “We can’t do it alone. Without some strict enforcement, we’re going to lose this battle. It’s costing lives and changing lives forever.”

Press said his own daughter is still recovering from injuries suffered in a boat strike a few months ago in the area.

Added Caplan: “It’s like post-Apocalyptic Thunderdome. We need multi-jurisdictional help.”

Commissioners promised to work with village officials to explore options but noted that Key Biscayne is one of several areas around the state dealing with similar boating safety problems in popular gathering spots.

FWC Lt. Col. Jack Daugherty said the agency is constrained by state statute on how far it can go to impose boating safety regulations, but pledged additional law enforcement resources to augment officers from Key Biscayne and Miami-Dade County while the state’s boating and waterways section works with them on the problem.

Press described the situation around Key Biscayne as the “wild, wild West” — warranting immediate action.

“This [area] has the injuries and the deaths that separate us from the other areas,” Press said. “Those areas are problematic. This area is deadly.”