Virginia Key committee created amid boat show dispute

Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key
Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key

Five years after approving a master plan for of Virginia Key, the city of Miami took the first step in creating an advisory board that will oversee development of the historic small island. Late Thursday, city commissioners unanimously granted preliminary approval to the establishment of the Virginia Key Steering committee, which will have members appointed by city officials, as well as the Miami-Dade County Commission and the Village of Key Biscayne.

The move comes at a contentious time between Miami and Key Biscayne. Key Biscayne is suing the city in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in an effort to stop the relocation of the Miami International Boat Show from its longtime home in Miami Beach to the Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin in Virginia Key. A judge recently tossed a separate lawsuit against National Marine Manufacturer’s Association or NMMA, the company that puts on the boat show, which is scheduled to take place February 11 through February 15.

For close to a year, Key Biscayne officials, as well as environmentalists and preservationists, have argued the boat show  which draws more than 100,000 attendees  will create horrific traffic conditions on the Rickenbacker Causeway and damage the ecosystem in the bay.

In a written statement released prior to the city commission meeting, Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay criticized Miami officials for waiting five years to start the process of establishing the steering committee.

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“The City of Miami has been turning a blind eye to its own master plan for years,” Lindsay said. “The city of Miami views Virginia Key as a piggy bank, consistently putting for-profit enterprises before the environment and public access for Miami-Dade residents.”

At the hearing, some Virginia Key advocates echoed Lindsay’s criticisms, but also expressed their satisfaction that the city commission is finally addressing the issue. “If we had this committee in place we wouldn’t have the contentious situation we have right now,” said Blanca Mesa, founder of Friends of Virginia Key. “Although some commercial development is appropriate to bring in revenue, the primary purpose is to protect the public interest and natural resources. This committee will help do that.”

The city commission’s vote came on the same day that the NMMA released results of a poll showing broad support for the boat show’s relocation to Virginia Key, despite Key Biscayne’s objections. According to a statement by NMMA representatives, the survey of 800 registered Miami-Dade voters was conducted by Miami pollster Dario Moreno and was commissioned by a group of local businesses, marine industry advocates and labor groups whose employees and members depend on the boat show for work. Among the poll funders are Captain Harry’s, Cigarette Racing, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, and Teamsters Union Local 769.

The poll results provided by NMMA show that respondents supported the move by a 46 percent to 31 percent margin after been told of the issues raised by Key Biscayne. In addition, voters in County Commission District 7, which includes Key Biscayne and Virginia Key, supported the annual event’s relocation to Miami Marine Stadium by a 48 percent to 31 percent margin after being informed of the village’s objections.

The boat show still needs to obtain permit approvals from Miami-Dade, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps. of Engineers.