Additionally, and what I think most important, no hurricanes struck the Keys in the 27-year-period between Betsy in 1965 and Andrew in 1992. Thankfully, Andrew missed the heart of the Keys. Burger Kings, McDonalds, gas stations, and marinas popped up during the later
part of the 1970s. However, the biggest social and monetary change occurred when an exotic grouper appeared: “square grouper,” the local name for bales of marijuana. Pot, smuggling, and later cocaine, brought sudden wealth, and almost overnight previously poor lobster fishermen were driving Mercedes. Some purchased selleck chemicals fleets of boats and thousands of traps. Motels and marinas grew larger and property values skyrocketed. Many boats moored in the newly built Port Largo canal system sported noticeably high PARP inhibitor review water lines. Boats with waterlines below the surface were a dead giveaway to contraband loaded below decks. Scruffy young sail boaters could be seen purchasing burgers at the nearby Burger King with hundred dollar bills, and small planes landed night and day on the landing strip that paralleled the main channel to the Port Largo. Today, expensive homes dot what was then the runway. Homes, property, and boats were being
bought with suitcases of hard cash, while beer trucks transported weed northward on US 1. Meanwhile illegal aliens literally floated in on rafts and makeshift boats, leading Immigration and Customs agents to set up roadblocks Sclareol on US 1. They were usually right next to the Last Chance Bar and Grill. That was before US 1 was relocated to its present location east of the Last Chance. Inspecting car trunks for illegal aliens revealed the true extent of drug smuggling, so periodic
roadblocks persisted. These roadblocks of course impacted tourism—and smuggling, leading to establishment of the so-called Conch Republic on April 23, 1982. Creating the Republic and threatening to secede from the Union was a publicity stunt, but the term Conch Republic stuck and proudly remains today. To avoid being caught at the roadblock, smugglers could telephone the Last Chance Bar (they posted their phone number on a chalk board) and learn if one was in place. Too many Keys politicians and public employees found easy money irresistible. Some roads to nowhere were constructed. The one on Sugarloaf Key now has a gate to prevent access. It was always covered with skid marks where small planes landed to unload. The Keys were a very different place worthy of many Jimmy Buffett songs. “A pirate turns 40” was popular. The exact dates escape me but a Supreme Court decision limited the State’s offshore jurisdiction to 3 miles on the Atlantic side of the Keys. Pennekamp State Park could no longer protect the best reef areas farther offshore. This change in State jurisdiction provided an opportunity for NOAA’s new Marine Sanctuary Program to collaborate with the State.