The Taking of Fort Jefferson

When the Federal government shut down in December, the Conch Republic decided to "go to bat" for our tour operators being crushed economically by the closure of Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

When we found out that the Smithsonian’s Vermeer Exhibit was being opened with private donations, we said our ourselves, "...why not reopen Ft. Jefferson with donations from our tour operators...?" The Office of the Secretary General was on the phone to the National Park Service at Everglades National Park, "How much per day to run Ft. Jefferson?"

The answer... approximately $1600 per day...was relayed to the operators. They immediately agreed to pay for the reopening. What was $1600 per day compared to the combined $30,000 per day they were losing?

So we called the Park Service and told them we had the money...reopen the Park! No dice, they said...we can only enter into agreements with the State of Florida...

"What about the Smithsonian," we asked...

"Uhhhh...I dunno..."
There was nobody home in Washington to ask. They were either furloughed, or on vacation for the holidays.

The Governor’s Office in Tallahassee couldn’t have been more helpful... They’d love to help, but there is no mechanism for the State to take private money and make official commitments based on private promises... They’d see what they could do...

The days wore on as our businesses went broker and broker. Frustrated by a government that just plain wasn’t home, we finally decided to take the bull by the horns and fly out there with a check for the first day of operation, and declare the Fort open in the name of the Conch Republic.

King Mel Fisher’s former attorney, David Paul Horan was ready to take the government to court, but they needed a "habeas corpus" to commit civil disobedience and get a citation for entering a "closed Federal facility". It was time to go to the fort.

Accompanied by intrepid Key West Citizen reporter, Jennifer K. Mahal, a private seaplane flew us to Ft. Jefferson to deliver the check, declare the Fort open in the name of the Conch Republic, and get a citation. Landing at the Fort in very rough conditions, (Jennifer earned herself a Citation for Valor on this day) we confronted the Park Service Staff. It was a very polite encounter, but the ticket was issued. The case called "The United States of America vs. Peter Anderson" was born.

"The United States of America vs. Peter Anderson" went to Federal Court several months later. You have never seen a government in more of a hurry to drop a case.