A year ago, a 33-year-old financier named Javier bought a two-bedroom condo in a posh new building downtown for just under $200,000. From his white leather couch, his gigantic windows offer spectacular views of both the river and the bay. He walks to Heat games, takes the Metromover, and is a regular at upscale Brickell restaurants. To Miami city planners and developers, he is as elusive and mythical a creature as Sasquatch. He is the urban-dwelling yuppie.
One problem: Javier wants out of downtown. In fact, he won't allow his last name, or the name of his building, to be used in this story, because he's hoping to sell his unit. It's not the parking, or the crime, or the lack of neighbors that is chasing Javier away. It's the noise. "Sleep is very important to me," he says. "When my windows are rattling, and I'm tossing and turning because of the boats, I'd rather get a quiet place somewhere else."
It's those damn shrimp boats, Javier says. The "wingnet" rigs trawl the Miami River and Biscayne Bay all night, throttling their engines to make turns and, Javier says, periodically blasting deafening horns. He says the boats usually wake him up around 2 a.m. Shrimpers hunt their minuscule prey at night, when they've migrated to shallow waters. "It's definitely not something I was aware of when I bought the place," Javier laments.
Sgt. Mike Gonzalez of the Miami Police marine patrol confirms that in the last couple of years, since residents started trickling into new condo towers along the river, the number of complaints about the boats has increased exponentially. "The sounds travel upwards, and the buildings act as an echo chamber," he says. "We get the most complaints in the winter because the condo people sleep with their windows open. But the shrimpers have been traveling the same route for 50 years."
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In response to the complaints, Gonzalez says he's led more "shrimp boat enforcement operations," boarding the rigs to search for any code infractions. He hasn't found many. "Ninety-five percent of the shrimpers are operating completely legally," he says. "There's not really a solution, besides persuading the shrimpers to bear the expense of applying silencers to their motors. That would be a massive financial burden."
Don't expect local shrimpers, toiling in an industry already crippled by overseas competitors, to change their ways without a fight. "Put a stake through us, bro," Randy, a Hialeah-based shrimper, responds glibly before hanging up on Riptide. "Put us out of our misery. Good luck."
So where's Javier heading now? "My brother lives in Homestead," he says, "so that's where I'm thinking."
Somewhere, a condo developer just shed a single tear.