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Sunk by Inertia PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
July 2020

Plans for Legion Park boat ramp stall…again

FRamp_1ormer and current residents of Miami’s Upper Eastside unleashed an e-mail storm last month. The object of their fury is a fenced-off section at Legion Park’s waterfront that’s been closed to the public for more than 11 years. (Legion Park stretches from Biscayne Boulevard to Biscayne Bay, between 64th and 66th streets.)

Miami officials have promised to repair the hurricane-damaged boat ramp and dock, and the City of Miami has a construction company on hand that’s ready to fix the boat ramp area. However, some Upper Eastside activists noted that a kayak launch near the boat ramp, requested by parkgoers three years ago, has been left out of the design.

In addition, it may be too late for the City of Miami to tap into a $740,139 state grant for construction-related expenses. That grant, which the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) allocated two years ago, is set to expire in September. Hector Badia, director of Miami’s Office of Capital Improvements, confirms he’ll be seeking a one-year extension at FIND’s next meeting, scheduled to be held July 17 and 18.

“The project was more complicated than typical, as raising the elevation of the seawall and parking area were required,” Badia explained in an e-mail to Upper Eastside residents. “Aside from permits from the State of Florida and the federal government, Miami-Dade County requires formal approval by the Board of County Commissioners, thus requiring a lengthier than usual review process.”

Kevin Crowley, an attorney and downtown Miami resident, serves as Miami-Dade’s representative for FIND, a state entity that provides grants to local governments on Florida’s east coast to enhance waterway access.

Ramp_2Crowley says he’ll push for a one-year extension. Still, he says, the city has trouble following through with FIND’s grant requirements. For example, the City of Miami lost a $50,000 grant from FIND that was awarded five years ago to pay design and permitting costs for Legion Park’s boat ramp because the city failed to meet deadlines. The city nearly lost the $740,139 grant as well, when it failed to submit timely quarterly reports to FIND. Upon being informed of this discrepancy, the city recently submitted reports. “For some reason, it’s difficult for the city to keep up with and manage the different parts of these grants,” Crowley tells the BT.

Legion Park’s boat ramp was active for more than 40 years when storm surge generated from 2005’s Hurricane Wilma caused significant damage to the ramp’s 12-foot-long floating dock. Four years later, the boat ramp was shut down after an local resident fell through a hole in the dock. That resident was later awarded a $54,000 judgment from the city (see “That Sinking Feeling,” March 2019).

Thereafter, the boat ramp languished, serving only trespassers who managed to slip past the fences to fish, launch kayaks, or run jet skis.

During a meeting with city officials at the Legion Park boat ramp on June 19, Morningside resident Elvis Cruz fumed that the city never tried to fix the boat dock, even though the city could have used funds from FEMA to do it. “It burns me to no end to say this, but we got screwed,” Cruz declared, adding that residents made the mistake of “trusting the city.”

The three Upper Eastside activists present at the meeting -- Cruz, Eileen Bottari of North Palm Grove, and Deborah Stander of Belle Meade -- also complained that the city ignored design suggestions given by parkgoers three years ago. Those suggestions included lowering the eight-foot-high perimeter fence on NE 64th Street, and placing a kayak launch at a clearing just south of the main boat ramp. Cruz insisted that a kayak launch would be perfect at that spot. “One of the reasons you hear me so enthusiastic about that location is that it is directly into the prevailing wind,” Cruz said.

Ramp_3But Jorge Mora, assistant director of the Office of Capital Improvements, was worried that having a kayak launch so close to an area where motorized boats are launched might create traffic tie-ups on NE 64th Street, the narrow road leading to the ramp area from Biscayne Boulevard. Safety, he added, was also a concern.

“If you have a kayak launch here and you have a boat ramp there, you are going to have cars with trailers [backed up],” Mora told Cruz. “You are going to have individuals parking, taking their kayaks here. It could present a safety hazard.” Mora felt that a kayak launch should be located farther north among the mangroves, encouraging kayakers to use Legion Park’s main parking lot.

Cruz doubted that kayakers would want to walk some 250 yards from the parking lot to the bay while carrying their vessels. “Chances are, they’ll park here and figure it out,” Cruz said. But he did like the idea of multiple kayak launches in Legion Park, emphasizing that they’re used not only by people who kayak or canoe, but also by people to swim or simply enjoy the view of the bay from a shoreline that isn’t filled with mangroves. “Put in as many as you can,” he urged.

Lara de Souza-Hamwey, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, emphasized that the city wants to add kayak launches to Legion Park, it’s just a question of when and where. “That’s the baseline,” she said. “We agree we want a kayak launch. We’re trying to establish what is the safest and most reasonable place to put a kayak launch.”

By the end of the meeting, city officials said they would see if it was possible to reinsert the kayak launch in the designs. De Souza-Hamwey also acquiesced to Eileen Bottari’s pleas to remove the fencing between the boat launch and the main area of the park, and to shorten the swing gate across NE 64th Street to just five or six feet.

Cruz emphasized that the fence was not necessary for security, telling the parks director that there will be plenty of security near the boat ramp. He pointed at the nearly complete 236-unit apartment complex, MiMo Bay Apartments, immediately west of the boat ramp area being built by developer Brian Pearl.

“You now have four floors looking down on this, and you know those condo commandos are going to be calling if they see anything they don’t like,” Cruz said.

“True, true, true,” replied de Souza-Hamwey.

But William Mathisen, a resident of the nearby Palm Bay Club condominium, tells the BT that the city had problems policing the boat ramp when it was operational over a decade ago. Back then, operators of personal watercraft hogged the ramp area and conducted illegal activity, Mathisen says. “It was an unlicensed jet-ski rental,” he says.

Mathisen doesn’t even like the idea of the ramp being used for any type of motorized vessel. He’d rather see the spot become a green boat ramp used for non-motorized vessels like sailboats, canoes, and kayaks. “It can even be called the City of Miami Green Ramp,” he suggests. The two-way street leading to the boat ramp and the shallow bay bottom make it less than ideal for motorized vessels anyway, he argues.

Cruz disagrees: “It’s very easy to suggest taking away a personal freedom, as long as it’s someone else’s personal freedom. Motor boating is a legal, licensed, taxpaying recreation that many of our families, friends, and neighbors enjoy. We need more boat ramps for waterfront access, not less.”

Tom Domack, a Morningside resident and boater, has also advocated for more boat ramps in the Miami area. Nevertheless, Domack says he wouldn’t be opposed to Legion Park’s boat ramp being used solely for non-motorized vessels, noting its shallow depth and the limited parking for boat trailers.

What Domack would like to see is the city actually opening up the boat ramps that already exist. He argues that the boat ramp at Morningside Park is almost always closed under lock and chain.

“It’s closed [almost] seven days a week,” he says. Domack, who uses the county-operated boat ramp at Pelican Harbor near North Bay Village, has no idea why the gate in front of the Morningside ramp is padlocked. “It’s mainly up to the park manager to keep it closed,” Domack sighs. “You know, it’s just a matter of indifference. That’s what it is.”

John Heffernan, deputy director of communications for the City of Miami, insists that the Morningside Park boat ramp, at least prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was in fact open to the public. The ramp, he says, keeps the same hours as the city’s other boat ramps: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

But Cruz, who often advocates for Morningside Park improvements, says he often sees the boat ramp in that park closed as well: “The city was not good about keeping the gates open during the week, even when there wasn’t COVID, or good about having staff on hand to man the gates on weekends.”

 

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