Facts v. myths: Setting the record straight on the proposed Jensen Beach mooring field

Proposed Jensen Beach mooring field (Source: Martin County)

Attorney and civic activist Virginia Sherlock sets the record straight on a recent Stuart News column by Rich Campbell (containing so many errors that a reprint of his work is of little value): Rich Campbell has been taking advice on government transparency and protecting the environment from (pro-growth Martin County Commissioner) Doug Smith, producing a column on the Jensen Beach mooring field which might as well have started out: “Once upon a time . . .” Setting aside the absurdity of using Doug Smith as a muse on transparency in government or protecting our environment, Campbell’s column in defense of the Jensen Beach mooring field contains omissions of fact as well as errors that should be set straight.

The biggest myth is that Martin County cannot control derelict boats without the Jensen Beach mooring field.
Fact: The County has the legal ability to remove derelict boats from waters within the County’s boundaries under existing law.  The Martin County Attorney’s Office produced two memoranda confirming that the County can remove derelict vessels and explaining how this can be done under existing law.  The County has, in fact, removed many derelict vessels from waters within the County boundaries.  Just before the administrative hearing on the challenge by Jensen Beach residents to the DEP permit for the mooring field, the County announced that it had removed a dozen derelict vessels from the Jensen Beach area alone.
Item 8A1 on Tuesday’s County Commission agenda reports that the County currently has more than $165,000.00 in its derelict vessel removal fund. Why isn’t the County using these funds to remove derelict vessels? 
The County also has the legal ability to control live-aboard vessels and there are laws on the books that prohibit dumping of waste into the river. 
A mooring field is not needed to enforce these laws.
Another myth is that the mooring field will protect seagrasses and marine resources.
Fact:  One quadrant of the proposed mooring field would be constructed over critical seagrass beds that are rapidly disappearing throughout the Indian River Lagoon.  The dock associated with the mooring field would be constructed through protected seagrass beds, including endangered Johnson’s seagrass, and would require boats to maneuver in and around seagrasses to use the dock.  There is no evidence that mooring 51 boats and docking an additional 18 boats in an area where 10 to 20 boats may now be anchored will provide better protection for seagrass beds and, in fact, there is considerable evidence to the contrary. 

Myth: Citizens of Jensen Beach support the mooring field.

Fact:  Some citizens of Jensen Beach may support the project; however, many, many citizens do not. Commissioner Doug Smith spent thousands of dollars on a paid public relations consultant to conduct meetings and try to persuade the community to support the project.  That effort failed.  Some residents view the mooring field as an extension of the hugely unpopular Renar project. 
The former Indian Riverkeeper, the current Riverkeeper, and former Indian River Lagoon Marine Resources Council Executive Director Jim Egan all oppose constructing the mooring field in the proposed location, which is in the Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve that is designated by the State of Florida as a “wilderness preserve” to be maintained in its natural state.

Myth: Residents of Jensen Beach filed a lawsuit against the mooring field and the court ruled in favor of the project.

Fact:  The Jensen Beach mooring field has never been the subject of any court proceedings. Residents of Jensen Beach filed an administrative challenge to the permit that was issued by the Department of Environmental Protection for the mooring field.  An administrative law judge considered only potential violations of state regulations in the hearing.  The ALJ’s decision was contrary to expert testimony of Jim Egan, former Executive Director of the Marine Resources Council and an acknowledged expert on the Indian River Lagoon, and the testimony of former Indian Riverkeeper George Jones. 

The ALJ did not address violations of the Martin County Boat Facilities Siting Plan, which was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2002 and specifically prohibits new marinas or other boat facilities (such as a mooring field) anywhere except in a “preferred location” or a “potential site” identified after an extensive study sponsored by the County.  The Plan is incorporated in and made part of the County’s Comprehensive Plan.

The location of the Jensen Beach mooring field is neither a preferred location nor a potential site.  The most preferred locations for new facilities in Martin County are (1) the Manatee Pocket and (2) expansion of the Stuart Mooring Field. The only sites identified in Jensen Beach are (1) expansion of the existing Sundance Marine facility and (2) a site directly north of and adjacent to Indian Riverside Park.  No site studies were performed or conducted by the consultant hired by the County to design the mooring field.  The consultant was told to design the project for the location that was selected and not to even look at any other locations.

It is up to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners, not an administrative law judge, to implement and enforce the approved Boat Facilities Siting Plan, which is part of the Martin County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

Myth: The mooring field has been “fully vetted” and approved by the BOCC.
Fact:  There has never been a hearing on the mooring field before the BOCC.  The project was slipped into the Capital Improvements Plan several years ago by Commissioner Smith.  The Commission has never voted to approve the project except as set out on one of the sheets “buried” in the CIP and carried forward year after year with no discussion. 
Commissioner Smith has used district funds – taxpayer dollars – to pay  for design and promotion of the mooring field without seeking approval  from the Commission. 
There was no notice or hearing before issuance of the DEP permit for the mooring field (which prompted the administrative challenge by residents).
The BOCC did not even vote to have Martin County participate in the anchoring and mooring pilot program established by the State of Florida.  Staff filed the application with the State without authorization from the BOCC.  The application requested proof of the decision of the local governing body to participate in the program, but Martin County staff attached a copy of an agenda item seeking approval of a request for a grant application to fund the mooring field.  The BOCC never directed staff to apply for the pilot program.
That may be why Martin County has had such a hard time getting its proposed anchoring and mooring ordinance approved by the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  There has never been a consensus on the mooring field among County Commissioners or the public.
Myth: The mooring field will make the river more accessible to residents for recreational activities.
Fact: The mooring field management plan prohibits the general public from using portions of the Jensen Beach Causeway which are now widely used by residents and visitors.  Parking spaces would be reserved for mooring field users and would no longer be available to the general public.  New facilities would be constructed – harbormaster office, laundry, showers, picnic area – for mooring field users, depriving the public of the use of those portions of the causeway.
The Jensen Beach mooring field is a poorly planned project that is proposed for the wrong location.  If there is a need for new boat anchoring/mooring facilities, the BOCC must comply with the Boat Facilities Siting Plan that was approved after considerable study and public input and reject the mooring field project that was developed and moved forward without public participation and support.
Policy 8.1.A.1 of the Martin County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan incorporates the Boat Facility Siting Plan adopted by Martin County on March 5,  2002 and approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation  Commission  (FFWCC) on June 27, 2002, into the Comp Plan and mandates that: “All  development orders regarding boat facilities and all  development of boat facilities shall be consistent with the Plan.”

Fact: The BOCC cannot include the Jensen Beach mooring field in the CIP without violating our Comprehensive Plan.

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