Virginia Key has boat ramp funds, but plan may sink
The fate of a $1.25 million state grant to pay for half of a new boat ramp and trailer parking area on Virginia Key is in doubt as a city review board charged with overseeing the island is raising concerns about the project.
Even as city staff were prepared to move forward with the boat ramp project, the proposed ramp and trailer parking area plan is coming under fire from a community action group as well.
And all this comes on the heels of the departure of the Miami International Boat Show from the land and water around Miami Marine Stadium.
The new boat ramp project was discussed at the latest meeting of the Virginia Key Advisory Board.
Board members strongly suggested city staff reconsider all aspects of the project – size, uses, location, design and more.
The city government was awarded $1.25 million from the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) board, and city leaders approved committing a matching amount for a total project cost of $2.5 million.
City staff presented what they said was the current plan for the new boat launch facility west of Miami Marine Stadium, noting the review board had seen the plan before.
Staff said the FIND grant requires a new boat launch west of the stadium with 77 trailer parking spaces; 18 on the west next to the ramp and 59 to the east, near the Miami Rowing Club.
Not only did several board members say they hadn’t seen this plan but some voiced serious concerns about the impact on existing users of Virginia Key, and on traffic along the Rickenbacker Causeway, the only way to and from Key Biscayne.
“I’ve never seen this drawing,” said board member Vinson Richter.
“I remember the discussion a year ago was that use of the boat ramp was more maintenance-oriented, primarily for maintenance of a floating stage, and maybe the boat show people could bring boats in and out. The concept has changed; now it’s a full-fledged boat ramp. I don’t know how we got to that point,” he said.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of a FIND grant and I don’t think I’ve missed a meeting,” said another board member.
Board member Esther Alonso-Luft said the project still needs considerable work to add a major turn-in area off of Rickenbacker Causeway.
“There is high cycle and pedestrian traffic there as well … you’ll need a traffic light at least,” she said.
A city staffer said no traffic light is contemplated for this site.
Ms. Alonso-Luft said a big problem could result with heavy boat launch activity.
“Thousands of people go through there on non-motorized vehicles. There are cyclists in large numbers in the morning. It’s something that should be looked at in anticipation of (budgeting) for the boat ramp (project),” she said.
Board member Gary Milano supported a new boat ramp.
“Boat ramps are really limited in this area … and we really need boat ramps for the public. We need it … I’m all for the boat ramp and I encourage the city to follow through with it,” he said.
The City of Miami owns much of Virginia Key, including the historic Marine Stadium and basin and the large land area surrounding the idled stadium, known as a flex park.
Several years ago, the city sank more than $20 million into improvements and upgrades to the flex park in an agreement to allow the staging of the Miami International Boat Show at the site.
The boat show producers have notified the city they are leaving Virginia Key.
The city is in the midst of a multi-million-dollar restoration of the stadium, closed in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
During the board meeting, member Lynn Lewis expressed concern about a large amount of asphalt in the current plan.
“It can end up as permanent asphalt, right at the front door of this wonderful stadium and wonderful park. It’s definitely a concern for me,” she said.
Mr. Richter was critical of the planning and design process for projects on the island.
“We’re designing in a vacuum. We’re throwing good money after bad. Twenty-five percent of this entire parking lot is dedicated to trailers. Is it a boat ramp, is it a stadium, is it a park? It doesn’t make sense to me. Is it historic, is it not historic? Is there a mooring field? We are going around and around,” Mr. Richter said.
Ms. Alonso-Luft said the board must not forget the impact on public access to other users, including rowers, swimmers and more.
“Don’t forget those other people because they were here first,” she said.
The Virginia Key Alliance, a coalition of citizens dedicated to preserving Virginia Key and its environment for active outdoor recreation, has voiced concerns about the proposed boat launch and trailer parking.
The alliance complains of no overall management plan for the property.
On its website the alliance says: “The Marine Stadium is considered the ‘jewel’ of this area and should be the focal point for all projects surrounding it.”
FIND is a special state taxing district for the continued management and maintenance of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, commonly referred to as M-95 marine highway.