Florida Keys

Monroe County Sheriff's Office

In the Florida Keys, serious medical cases are often airlifted to a hospital on the mainland. But how much a patient pays can vary widely, depending on which helicopter gets the call.

The Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the county Fire-Rescue Department run Trauma Star, which is based at the Marathon Airport. When a Keys resident is airlifted on Trauma Star, the county bills the insurance company. But Monroe County residents don't have to pay anything above what insurance pays.

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As Atlantic hurricane season nears, Monroe County wants to make sure Florida Keys residents are prepared.

One big change in Monroe County’s hurricane plan is that Florida International University will no longer be a shelter for the general public, according to Irene Toner, director of Monroe’s Office of Emergency Management.

She says only Monroe residents with special needs will shelter there. The general population will instead stay at Miami-Dade Fair Grounds, which will allow pets.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

When it comes to affordable housing, the Florida Keys face a quadruple whammy: low supply, high demand, strict growth limits and a tourism industry that pays low service-sector wages.

That's the conclusion of a new study from the Florida State University Consensus Center. Affordable housing woes are not new to the Keys. But the pressure eased some during the recession, according to Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

Bob Krist / Florida Keys News Service

The tourism industry in the Florida Keys is booming with high occupancy and record-high room rates this season. Still, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council this week released a report (see it at the end of this post) on unlicensed vacation rentals and rental scams, calling for a crackdown by local governments.

The Keys have 15,000 licensed lodging units — that includes hotel rooms, campsites and homes with licenses for short-term rentals. In most of the Keys, short-term is defined as less than a month.

Christopher / Flickr/Creative Commons

The Florida Keys like to consider themselves as a place apart from mainland South Florida. But starting this weekend, life on the island chain will be just like Miami-Dade in one way. 

Keys business and tourism leaders fought against 10-digit dialing when it was first proposed for the island chain. They said it would make it harder for visitors and customers to reach them.

The state agreed in 2005 to delay the change for as long as possible. The Keys held out for 10 years, but they’ve finally reached the end of the road for seven-digit dialing.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

In the fight against mosquitoes in the Florida Keys, domestic inspector Carrie Atwood has a few indispensable tools. She carries a dipper — essentially, a plastic cup at the end of a stick. She has a flashlight for looking into the backs of plants and pots. And she has a turkey baster.

"That's good for getting into bromeliads, which is a plant that holds water at the base of the leaf," Atwood said. "We use that to dip in there or just any other kind of tight space where the dipper won't go."

Monroe County Sheriff's Office

Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay is protesting a year-old crosswalk on the Overseas Highway in Key Largo after a three-car pileup at the site last week.

Ramsay said the first he or any of his officers heard about the crosswalk was when it was installed a year ago by the state Department of Transportation.

"We were not advised, not informed, not asked. Our input wasn't taken by FDOT in any manner or form," Ramsay said. "We were surprised like everyone else when it showed up one day, just popped up. It was just a total surprise."

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

The spiny lobster season ended March 31. State biologists say it looks like the total catch will be slightly lower than last year — but the seafood that came to the market fetched record-high prices.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

Body cameras for the Key West Police Department. Night binoculars for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. Radar units for the Florida Highway Patrol.

It was like Christmas in February at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Friday, with Sheriff Rick Ramsay in the role of Santa Claus for fellow law enforcement agencies.

Nancy Klingener / WLRN

The Florida Keys have been under a moratorium on new hotel rooms for decades. But the islands are seeing a flood of new properties open, mostly through renovations and conversions.

In all, about 1,000 new rooms are being added or coming back on line after being closed for renovation and rebuilding. The Keys have a total of 15,000 lodging units, which includes hotel rooms, RV spots and short-term vacation rentals.

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