Anchors Away

City Hall revives a scheme to do away with Dinner Key Anchorage, Miami's last floating village

"You'll have three classes of citizens," Bricker says. "Dock people, mooring people, and the lowly surviving Anchorage people. The moorings will get filled up by people who want to pay for a mooring instead of high rates for a slip at the marina. Meanwhile, anchored people will continue to be treated as undesirable second-class citizens who don't need water or bathrooms or a secure dinghy dock."

Actually, according to the ordinance, Anchorites won't have the option of refusing to move into the new anchorage and paying a fee. If they don't weigh anchor and move, police will tow their boats and charge them for the ride. It's not clear where the boats might then be stored.

Abrams denies that her efforts to regulate the Anchorage are designed to extinguish a community that local politicians have long seen as freeloaders, deadbeats, and individual representatives of a collective eyesore. (The blight begins at a garbage-strewn dinghy dock near the foot of 27th Avenue and extends to the Anchorage itself, home to many a shipshape watercraft but also to dozens of abandoned, rotting vessels). In fact, the new ordinance isn't even mainly a hunt for new revenue by a nearly bankrupt city, she says.

Abrams, director of the city's Department of Conferences, Conventions, and Public Facilities, claims her motive is a 1995 report by Metro-Dade's Department of Environmental Resources Management. The county environmental protection agency is threatening the city with fines and lawsuits if it doesn't rectify a seagrass die-off in the Anchorage caused by dragging anchor chains, sunken derelict vessels, and too much shade from ships' hulls. Biologists say the seagrass provides a crucial habitat for fish, sponges, and algae in Biscayne Bay. (At least two studies in the past showed that suspected water pollution from live-aboard sewage dumping is not in fact a detectable problem.)

Bricker and other Anchorites say the issues and the motives are much broader, and cite a long history of bad blood between the no-rent boaters and the city. John Brennan, a member of the city's Waterfront Advisory Board, says he's sympathetic. "The Anchorage people have proved their willingness to negotiate with the city for any sort of deal that seemed reasonable to them. For a year or so in the past, the city provided some services -- water and bathroom facilities. Then the city decided to pull the rug out from under them. There's not a lot of trust there."

Indeed, one encounters a slight sourness of attitude among Anchorites -- a hint of cynicism, a soupion of bile -- inspired by the suits at city hall. "These nitwits have made my life a living hell for twenty years!" shrieks Milanne Rehor, who lives on a wooden-hulled sloop and has tilted with bureaucrats for two decades over Anchorage regulation. "I have a couple of degrees, I pay taxes, I work. I just happen to live on a boat. What is their problem? They've got rape, murder, and mayhem onshore. They're broke. And yet they persist in attacking this microscopic group of people at the Anchorage."

Rehor sums up: "If the city has a beef with any of the boats out there, then they should enforce existing maritime law and navigation rules. They can earn money from us right now without doing a thing except providing services. There is no need for any of the city's spurious 'improvements.' What's that? What? Angry and hostile? You're right! I am!"

Alan Kobrin, a Pennsylvania native who lives on a 37-foot sailboat, shares his neighbor's skepticism. City officials consistently fail to appreciate the Anchorage as a unique social and cultural phenomenon, he says. He did too, up until four and a half years ago."I bumped into this guy and he started telling me about this place, this Anchorage," Kobrin recalls. "I got invited to what they called a Chautauqua, a party on this two-story houseboat with a piano. There must have been twenty people onboard. There was lunch; everyone contributed, telling stories, playing music, reading poetry. I thought, 'I didn't know there were people like this in Miami.' It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

"Not to get too philosophical, but I think this mania to regulate the Anchorage is another example of the internal contradictions of our national psyche," Kobrin says. "On one hand we espouse a set of values, and then we deny them. We espouse the frontier spirit, the cowboy ethic of independence and self-sufficiency, and then we seek out and destroy every place where it can exist and flourish."

At press time, Brennan and his colleagues on the city's Waterfront Advisory Board were scheduled to vote on the Anchorage ordinance December 10, with the city commission following in late winter or early spring. (The commission is the real decision-making body and may or may not follow the recommendations of the board.) Brennan says he's queasy about some of the effects the proposed plan might have. "There are people out there at the Anchorage who are honorable, hard-working people," he notes. "There are also a bunch of 'em that should be in halfway houses. And if you take their boats away, they're going to be sleeping under your bushes."

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