Skip to comments.Keys town (Layton, FL) fights border station
Posted on 10/07/2002 10:01:47 AM PDT by Battle Hymn of the Republic
Keys town fights border station
Locals fear loss of their identity
BY JENNIFER BABSON
The tiniest city in the Florida Keys -- population 186 in the high season -- is taking on U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in a battle that locals say is intended to preserve their patch of paradise.
Angry residents of Layton filed suit after the U.S. Border Patrol announced plans to open a new station, including an interim migrant processing center, in the mile-long municipality between Islamorada and Marathon.
'The mood in Layton is, `Hey, whatever it takes,' '' said Hal Halenza, 72, a city council member. ``We had to raise our ad valorem taxes to pay for our attorney fees.''
Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner James Ziglar, Ashcroft and several federal officials are named in the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Key West.
Cameron Hintzen, the Border Patrol's resident agent in charge in the Keys, declined to discuss the suit, which names him as a co-defendant. The government still has about six weeks to respond to the suit in writing.
For its new Keys headquarters, the Border Patrol is considering a vacant 5,000-square-foot building along U.S. 1. It was previously occupied by a screw manufacturer.
The station would include office space for about 20 agents and three temporary holding areas for migrants who land in the Keys.
Authorities now have to transport migrants to a processing center in Pembroke Pines before taking them to Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade County. They are typically released from Krome to family or friends.
Under the new proposal, migrants would undergo initial processing in the Keys, then be bused to Krome for release. The Layton site also would offer ocean access to agents who sometimes use a 27-foot speedboat to chase migrant smugglers.
Though an environmental assessment commissioned by the Border Patrol found the station would have ''no significant impact'' on Layton, residents disagree.
In their suit, Layton residents want the agency to conduct another study that would include more of their input. They also want a federal judge to block the move until the assessment is completed.
Before releasing a preliminary proposal, Border Patrol officials held one public meeting with the community and also met with some of Layton's elected officials.
In part, Layton residents are pinning their legal hopes on a sea grass-munching mammal, the West Indian manatee, that is classified as a federally protected endangered species. The lawsuit contends that federal officials failed to fully scrutinize the effect the station could have on manatees that sometimes visit the city's oceanside canals.
''A lot of people have seen manatees throughout the canal system,'' Halenza said.
Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed off on the Border Patrol's environmental assessment, the suit claims that the agency's review consisted of a ``swap of form letters.''
A lawyer for Layton said the issue strikes at the heart of the city's identity.
''We have manatees, we have crocodiles, but it's also about the human environment,'' said Dirk Smits, an Islamorada attorney who is representing the city in the suit. ``The city of Layton is not the best location for this.''
Nestled between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean almost in the middle of the Keys, Layton was first used as a rustic fishing camp. It was incorporated in 1963 by Del Layton, a Miami businessman who was eager to leave the bustle of the mainland behind.
Nearly four decades later, locals fiercely guard the city's small-town ways: one restaurant, one hotel -- but no supermarket.
''The concern is that we would become a place on the map,'' Halenza said. ``Everybody just kind of gets away from it all here.''
Not any more. With the tens of thousands of boaters in the Keys and hundreds of thousands on the Eastern (manatee) Coast of Florida, impact from Coast Guard boats would be a drop in the bucket. Layton is a hole in the wall and no more ecologically significant than its population size implies, and it's time for the NIMBY population to pull their share rather than dumping it off on Miami.
Small town ways are extinct in Key West, but not in the rest of the Keys. While Key West has always been a haven for misfits and thieves, the upper keys were settled by religious puritans. And although it's diluted now, there's still an historic island subculture maintained by the natives. Local drug running was tolerated in the 70s and 80s, but from what I hear it's not any more.
Illegal aliens are possible, but those involved are typically Cuban, and I dont see them coordinating with Layton residents for environmental impact studies. There seems to be a social divide between Caucasians and Cubans here. One of my neighbors are real suspect of a Cuban family down the street and their frequent furniture delivery trucks. Lol! I think it's just their job, but who knows.
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