Protest Planned Over Miami Beach Crackdown on Live-Aboard and Derelict Vessels - Updated

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Photo by Alan Miles via Flickr Creative Commons

Karine Prudent was on her boat near the Venetian Causeway in Miami Beach this Tuesday morning when an officer pulled up alongside. "It's 10. Let's go!" he shouted.

Prudent, age 45, has been anchoring in a spot next to the Sunset Harbour condominiums with her teenaged son since 2014, when she escaped an abusive relationship and could not afford an apartment. But she was evicted this week as the city and state began a wave of enforcement against derelict and live-aboard vessels. 

Prudent says FWC officers deemed her boat derelict because it could not move under its own power — neither the sail nor engine worked. She says she bought an engine, but it was too late.

Prudent is French and had nowhere to go after the boat was towed. She says the officer told her to try a shelter. "My son is 18 years old," she said. "I can't leave him in a men's shelter!" She packed her bags and headed for Maurice Gibb Park at 18th Street and Purdy with her cat and dog until she could devise a plan. 

Phil Horning, the FWC's  derelict-vessel-program administrator, told New Times last week that there are 250 to 350 derelict boats in the agency's database at any given time and that cities and counties also maintain their own list of these vessels.  He says that sometimes, boat owners "sell them for a dollar at the end of their lives instead of dumping them like they should. It ends up with somebody with no means and no money. They keep it until it sinks and then walk away from it." Boats can look ratty as they deteriorate or become navigational hazards, especially if they sink. 

Derelict-vessel owners can be found guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in prison. "If it becomes felony dumping," Horning explains, it can be a $5,000 fine and third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, but in those cases, "we have to prove intent."  

But owners of other, nonderelict boats that have long been anchored at Sunset Harbour also received citations from the City of Miami Beach. Those boats were ordered to leave by Sunday, according to Miami Beach veterinarian, Mike Tenzer, who has long kept his $150,000 Hunter there and was cited.

The city has an ordinance that effectively says boats can anchor in one place for only seven days out of 30.

The law states that boats stored in Biscayne Bay "have a deleterious effect upon the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of the city in that they potentially serve as a source for pollution and contamination though discharge of human waste as well as garbage, refuse, debris, oil, and other obnoxious products; constitute aesthetic pollution, being unsightly and interfering with views and enjoyment by the public of the beautiful vistas of Biscayne Bay; [and] constitute nuisance and invasions of the privacy of homeowners and other residents of property adjacent or proximate to the bay." 

Ernesto Rodriguez, a Miami Beach city spokesman, said he was looking into the reason for the wave of enforcement. 

By law, only the state can regulate navigable waterways for boats "in transit," though local governments can regulate live-aboards

Miami Beach last year limited the docking of dinghies at a city ramp to just 20 minutes, thus making it difficult for anyone living on a boat to come ashore. This year, the state Legislature passed a measure that will eliminate overnight anchoring along the Venetian Causeway and on Sunset Lake in Miami Beach and in the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale. 

Wally Moran, a "cruiser" who regularly travels along the Intracoastal Waterway and stays at anchor, says boaters who have long enjoyed the right to anchor in public waterways are getting squeezed. It's important to fight cities that try to restrict boaters' rights to anchor, he says, because "other municipalities will use that as a model," and he predicts that soon much of the state will be off-limits.  

He is organizing a protest for Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Sunset Harbour boat ramp. 

Update: After publication, FWC Officer Marc Ingellis called  to say a Miami Beach officer ordered Prudent off the boat, which she didn't own.. He added that Sunset Harbor has a problem with homeless people living aboard —  it had enlisted homeless advocates for help, and that Prudent had been given two weeks notice.


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