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Ownership of this island off Key West is still unsettled — but Monroe County is making plans for it

An image of the shoreline of Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor.
Nancy Klingener
Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor, has remained undeveloped unlike its sister island, in the background, now known as Sunset Key.

Wisteria Island is a little more than half a mile off of Key West's harborfront. For years it's been in legal limbo.

The federal government says it owns the island and a federal judge agreed. That decision is under appeal, with arguments set for next March.

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Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi says the island needs attention, and 24-hour security from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office or state Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officers.

"The dumping is ridiculous, there's a lot of dumping in the area and just general lawless conditions that makes it very difficult for the sheriff and Fish & Wildlife to enforce," he said. "And it's just dangerous. Folks have been hurt out there."

People have been injured, like a tourist couple that was attacked by a man wielding a knife after they took a dinghy out to the island. But it also serves as a community gathering place for people who live on boats anchored nearby — one of the last affordable ways to live in or near Key West.

Gastesi has put together a proposal for an island beach park that includes kayak and hobie cat rentals and a ferry to Key West. It would also include dinghy docks, showers and restrooms for a new mooring field for about 70 boats.

"It's got to be what we're calling low-impact development. And that's self-sustaining. That's not a burden to us, the state or the feds," he said.

Wisteria's future is set for discussion at approximately 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Monroe County Commission meeting in Key West.

Last year, the state declared all Monroe County's waters an anchoring limitation area that would require boats anchored outside of mooring fields and marinas to move every 90 days. But the state also said the new rules would not take effect until there were 300 new moorings near Key West.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.