After contacting Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office by email Monday -- for a response to “the closing of the Florida Bay and Biscayne National Park and the notice by the National Park Service to charter boat captains that they are prohibited from having access to those waters and that Park Service will also have rangers on duty to police the ban” – Scott’s Deputy Communications Director Frank Collins issued this official statement to Examiner Friday by email:
There are Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers currently operating and providing services in federal recreational water areas. In an effort by federal agencies to make the government shutdown more painful, however, Florida families have been targeted with added restrictions and closures of federal parks. It’s the federal government’s obligation to reopen and cancel restrictions on Florida’s natural treasures, and Florida taxpayers will not foot the bill to cover Washington’s failure to negotiate and compromise.
Collins indicated that the statement was forwarded to Director of Community Relations for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Irv “Doc” Kokol and to FWC Press Secretary Susan Smith.
A call to Kokol’s office regarding FWC’s response to the closure of Florida’s national parks during the government shutdown was returned by FWC Public Information Coordinator Carli Segelson.
“Basically, we can’t speak for the federal agencies,” Segelson told Examiner by phone Friday. “So as far as how their closures would be impacting the public that would probably be better addressed by them.”
Meanwhile, Segelson said “our staff is going to continue to patrol and operate as normal.”
“As far as state waters or state managed land, that’s all still going to be available to the public," Segelson added. "So, on our side of things there’s not going to be, at this point, too much difference.”
Despite the statement issued by Scott’s office -- that "Florida taxpayers will not foot the bill" -- a string of events show that Florida’s exasperated taxpayers are already paying dearly, and will pay even more as the shutdown drags on.
Frustrated by partial shutdown that has closed Everglades National Park and 400 other national parks across the country,” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, fishing guides in the Florida Keys spearheaded a rally Wednesday hoping to convince federal officials to let them back into park waters.”
Participants aboard more than 100 boats, kayaks and paddleboards gathered near the park's eastern Florida Bay boundary, less than a mile off the Keys.
“Islamorada guide Matt Bellinger, who owns several boats, says he has lost $10,000 since the 2,380-square-mile park closed Oct. 1. About a third of the park incorporates Florida Bay,” the report said.
“When this first went down,” Bellinger – owner of Bamboo Charters in the Florida Keys -- told Examiner Saturday, “we had clients coming in from England. These are regular customers of ours.”
We’d have two full boats booked at $800 per boat. So that’s $1,600 per day over a six-day period we’ve lost -- 90 percent of my business is within the Everglades National Park.
Asked about the response from his client’s about the closures, Belleginer said “the Brits were in total disbelief.”
“They said: ‘But you’re the Land of the Free,’” Bellinger quoted in what he called his “bad British accent.”
You’re the Land of the Free. How can they close open air monuments, open air parks to the public?
“People are astounded,” Bellinger continued. “They call up and say: ‘Okay, the Everglades is closed and they put a fence across the road that goes into the dry portion of the park. But how can they close a bay? How can they close an open body of water, an open body of water – an ocean? How can they close it?”
While Bellinger expressed frustration with the federal government’s action to close Florida’s fishing waters and other national parks across the country, he made it clear that he nor “any of his associates” have “a problem with the actions” of Florida’s “park rangers or park superintendents.”
They are merely following orders from up the line from Washington and from the head of the national park system.
“We work in such close relationship with these guys, I have their cell numbers on my phone,” Bellinger told Examiner.
We have an open line of communication. They live in our communities.
The “galling part,” Bellinger said, is that the federal government is “funding them to patrol the parks to deny access.”
How can you say you don’t have the money to patrol because the federal government is out of money to provide the service but you’re paying them to patrol the parks to keep people out of the park?”
While multiple news organizations and blog sites have picked up on Wesley Pruden’s Oct. 3 report in The Washington Examiner -- that a park ranger in Washington D.C. said they have “been told to make life as difficult for people as we can” -- the name of the park ranger has never been disclosed.
As Bellinger explained, park rangers in his area – although sympathetic of their plight -- would also be unwilling to give their name or talk about the matter “on the record” because “they’re so afraid of losing their jobs.”
Bellinger also said the closures have had an impact on local businesses and the income of employees who work there.
“The waitresses and bartenders are complaining about tip-money,” Bellinger said, noting that these people “live on tip money, and when you don’t have people sitting down at the tables, they’re not tipping.”
“The blowback” from the closures, Bellinger added, “is that people think the Florida Keys is closed, that the ocean’s closed.”
'He said he has tried to explain that “only about 2,000 square miles of the bay is closed.”
“The diving and off-shore fishing is still available, but we have this perception we’re fighting down here that the Florida Keys is closed – but it’s not.”
“Another maddening thing,” Bellinger added, “a fishing guide that works in the Everglades National Park is vetted by the National Park itself. We have an application process we have to go through where we have to have $300,000 minimum in liability insurance that names the United States of America and the United States National Parks as insured.”
“We have a $250 per year permit to fish within the park,” he said, “and every time we go to the park we have to fill out a report of what we did in the park and file it at the end of the month.”
If you get a warning in the park, or a violation in the park, it can go against you for reconsideration of your yearly permit. You lose that permit and you can’t fish in the park. So that dangles over our heads. We don’t even want anyone back there to get a warning for fear of losing our right to get into the park.
Captain Bob Branham -- owner of South Florida Flats Fishing in Plantation, Fla., near Miami – told Examiner Saturday that “they never patrol very strongly in Biscayne National Park.”
However, while Brenham said “they’re not particularly enforcing anything [there] right now” because “they’re understaffed all the time,” he said “the guide association in the keys are the ones that are really being hampered because of the closure of Everglades National Park” – where Bellinger conducts 90 percent of his business – “and they’re enforcing that closure more strongly than they ever enforced things when it wasn’t shut down.”
While Brenham said the closure didn’t affect the business that he “already had at all,” he reiterated Bellinger’s position that people aren’t calling to book fishing trips because they “keep hearing that the parks are closed so his “future business is suffering.”
While Miami’s local CBS News reported Monday that the “hundreds of sailors who are planning to participate in South Florida’s 57th annual Columbus Day Regatta may get some bad news” as “Regatta Chairman Mark Pincus” has said the race may be cancelled due to some nasty weather, Bellinger told Examiner that the “5,000 boats that come out of Miami and everywhere else” to attend the annual “float-in or raft-up party” that accompanies the regatta has been shut down.
While the regatta takes place “outside of Biscayne Bay National Park off of Miami,” the revelers traditionally gather within the waters that are now closed.
“Ahead of the busiest Friday through Monday of the year in Miami’s backyard underwater park,” The Miami Herald reported Thursday, “Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom said park rangers — backed up by federal, state and local law enforcement officers — will ask boaters who stop and hang out to leave. Diving and snorkeling also are prohibited.”
Carlstrom said officers will be patrolling the waters and stationed at Black Point and Homestead Bayfront marinas, which are gateways to the park, to inform boaters that the park is closed.
While the Miami Herald reported that Carlstrom “declined to say how many officers would be deployed to handle the anticipated crowds,” the planned deployment of “state and local law enforcement officers” to back up “park rangers” -- in an area where “they never patrol very strongly” because “they’re understaffed all the time” -- appears to further contradict the statement issued by Gov. Scott’s office Friday, that “Florida taxpayers will not foot the bill to cover Washington’s failure to negotiate and compromise.”
“Though the state government does not collect any property taxes,” the State of Florida website states, “local governments receive much of their funding through” property taxes.
These rates are assessed at the local level and can vary by county, and they are based on the value of the property. Property taxes in Florida are some of the highest in the country.