Florida Keys developer sentenced for illegally filling wetlands following Hurricane Irma

Bonefish Holdings ordered to pay $50K fine, restore impacted wetlands, and serve probation

Florida Keys aerial (Credit: iStock)
Florida Keys aerial (Credit: iStock)

A developer in the Florida Keys was sentenced for illegally filling and clearing federally regulated wetlands without a permit in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

Bonefish Holdings LLC pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years of probation, and ordered to pay a $50,000 criminal fine and to fully restore the impacted 3.7 acres of wetlands. Bonefish, led by Coral Springs developer Albert Vorstman, estimated the restoration would cost about $189,000, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Vorstman, a urologist, has been trying to develop an oceanfront 8-acre property in Islamorada’s Upper Matecumbe Key since he purchased it in 2007, partnering with the Fort Lauderdale architectural firm EDSA, the Miami Herald reported. The Village of Islamorada repeatedly rejected plans to develop the lot into a 49-room eco-tourism resort.

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After Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys in September 2017, destroying homes, resorts and other properties in its path, the developer hired workers to clear the storm debris and fill the site without a permit, violating title 33 of the Clean Water Act, according to the release.

“The defendant’s actions were designed to intentionally take advantage of what it saw as an opportunity to remove significant additional vegetation and the filling of wetlands, in the hope of easing the path for future development of the site,” the release said.

The Bonefish Holdings property, a group of five lots, was overgrown with invasive plants like Australian pine and Brazilian pepper trees, according to the Herald. The U.S. Attorney’s office said that the company received confirmation from the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 2009 and in 2013 that the property included federally protected wetlands, ensuring that the developer was aware that permits would be required in order to fill and clear the site.