Virginia Key advisory group tries to get ahead of events
Written by John Charles Robbins on September 12, 2017
Members of the Virginia Key Advisory Board want to be more proactive and less reactionary.
The operations and scope of the barely one-and-a-half-year-old body were discussed at the board’s last meeting Aug. 22, and on the heels of a vote to stop the city from proceeding with a proposal for a mooring field in the historic basin of the island.
Board members have expressed surprise and concern about some city staffers continuing to advance a plan for moorings/wet slips in the basin at the same time the board and city commission were voicing opposition to that idea, along with the public.
That is just one example of ongoing and proposed projects that have the potential for long-term impacts.
With so much activity on the island, board members say it’s been a real struggle to stay ahead of the changes.
Other projects in varying stages include: the restoration of Miami Marine Stadium; improvements to the flex park site surrounding the stadium; proposed improvements to the former Jimbo’s site; a new beach pavilion at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park; potential development of a sports and recreational facility on an old landfill; and redevelopment of Rickenbacker Marina and Marine Stadium Marina.
“Obviously, we’ve been in a reactionary mode, to most all of it,” said Joe Rasco, elected board chairman in April, replacing Greg Bush.
“It’s not our fault … things have been worked on since 2015 – this whole mooring field issue seems to have been going on forever but wasn’t brought to our attention until recently,” Mr. Rasco told his fellow board members.
“We need to have a more proactive view of what we think of the master plan, if we want to tweak it, improve what we have at Virginia Key,” he said.
The city commission established the advisory board in January 2016, and it held its first meeting in May 2016. It is to advise and make recommendations to the commission on the mission, vision, business plan, governance and operation of the island and basin, the implementation of the Virginia Key 2010 Master Plan, and restoration of long-idled Marine Stadium, closed in 1992.
By the time the advisory board meets again Sept. 26, it wants to have drafted resolutions to: build in regular status reports to its monthly meetings or possibly hire or appoint a liaison between the board and the City of Miami administration.
“There are bigger issues… what is Virginia Key? What is special about Virginia Key and how do we protect it?” said board member Blanca Mesa, the Sierra Club designee who has been consistently vocal about environmental issues related to the island.
“This board needs to develop a clear vision and convey it to the city commission,” she said.
Ms. Mesa said the board should work to conserve the scenery and wildlife of the island, unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.
“We need to protect it,” she said.
Mr. Rasco agreed a re-examination of the island’s sensitive environmental areas is warranted, and agreed protection is part of the board’s mission.
“We’ve addressed numerous issues. What we need is follow-up,” said member Gary Milano, the Tropical Audubon Society designee on the board.
“We should have administrative staff at every meeting follow up on our concerns,” he said.
Mr. Milano said what often happens is the board deals with an issue but there is down time or a lull, with no follow up, “and then something surprises us in three or four months down the road, like the mooring field… and no wake, no power boat entry into the lagoon, we haven’t heard a peep about that,” said Mr. Milano.
At its April 25 meeting the board requested that the city commission immediately direct staff to commence the process of creating a motor boat exclusion zone at the lagoon.
The commission has not yet taken up that issue.
“I’d be fine to put together a matrix, to provide a city representative a guideline to follow up on [and report back to us],” said Mr. Milano. “Without that a lot of these things will slip through the cracks and we’ll be looking at them in a crisis mode at some point.”
Mr. Rasco said he agreed.
“We have been reactionary on a number of items,” said member Guy Forchion. “The surprises aren’t so much the projects but the execution of them.”