Key Deer warning signs may expandBy Steve Estes
As Monroe County officials work their way through updating a 23-year-old commercial sign code to something more palatable to current business owners, there is also work being done that is designed to cut back on regulatory and safety signage.
Through the next three months, the county planning commission and Board of County Commissioners will listen to, opine on and ultimately approve a new sign code for commercial signage in the Keys. The final approval of that has been slated for January 2012.
In conjunction with that, county planners are working with the state Department of Transportation on a wayfinding sign program that will consolidate regulatory signs, such as speed limits and traffic warnings, with directional signs, such as those used to direct travelers to attractions and lodgings.
Officials from the National Key Deer Refuge saw the latter as a way to piggy-back on an existing action and try and rid Big Pine of some of the Key Deer related signs that dot the island.
US Fish and Wildlife, the organization under whose umbrella the refuge functions, has large, glow-at-night yellow signs at both the eastern and western entrances to Big Pine, along with Key Deer crossing warning signs about every quarter mile through the island.
Commissioner George Neugent has more than once called those signs a blight on the landscape, and while Refuge Manager Anne Morkill doesn’t call them a blight, she is amenable, with concurrence of her bosses in Vero Beach, to making the deer-related information signs less obtrusive.
Because speed limit signs must remain, refuge officials have suggested that all of their stand-alone crossing warning signs be removed or moved and attached to the speed limit signs, each resulting in one less sign pole to clutter up the view or provide an obstruction to motorists in case of an accident.
The refuge’s suggestions include cutting back on the number of warning signs located inside the fenced area of US 1 at the west end of Big Pine since “few deer penetrate the fence.”
Those signs with flashing beacons would be spaced further apart in many cases, and those signs containing mileage information could be hooked to speed limit signs.
The large yellow signs at the island’s entrance Morkill says she’d like to change to something less obtrusive.
“Perhaps the refuge could join with the Chamber of Commerce, the local Rotary Club, the county and FDOT to design a sign that announces the entrance to Big Pine, heralds it as the home of the Key Deer, and gives local civic groups a plug all at the same time,” she said.
Morkill’s bosses in Vero Beach have already issued a letter to Monroe County that installation of its wayfinding program signs will not fall outside the parameters of the Habitat Conservation Plan, and included some the suggestions put forth by Morkill.
But while the Big Pine portion of the project should result in fewer signs on the island’s landscape, the federal agency also suggests that as part of the sign overhaul on US 1, Key Deer warning signs be added all the way to mile marker 19 on Sugarloaf Key.
Morkill says the signs will provide an extra level of public safety enhancements to let “motorists know that there is a possibility Key Deer will be crossing the road over the 12 or 13 miles.”
Refuge personnel conducted a deer translocation program that moved male and female deer from the core herds on Big Pine and No Name Key to lands owned by the refuge on Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Key.
In the last two years there has been at least one deer killed by vehicle collision on US 1 on those two islands, prompting the need for more public outreach by the refuge.
Installing signs is a departure from promises made to Lower Keys residents five or six years ago when the translocation program was started.
At that time, refuge officials stated that because the herds on the two lower islands were anticipated to remain small, no additional traffic calming programs would be initiated.
Morkill says that the herds at Sugarloaf and Cudjoe are still expected to remain small, but even Key Deer can upset travel plans when they collide with cars.
“There just isn’t enough fresh water supply or quality habitat to support a large herd on Cudjoe or Sugarloaf,” she said.
She also is adamant that the installation of the warning signs on US 1 is not a precursor to lowering speed limits or installing speed bumps on Cudjoe and Sugarloaf.
“The herds there will never reach that size,” she said.
Morkill has also been in negotiations with the county to increase the number of deer warning signs on areas of Big Pine away from US 1 where road kill numbers are the highest.
Neugent said he could support that increase to slow traffic on interior island roads.