November 1, 2017

MARATHON — The Marathon City Council last week heard from a group addressing community character in signage, answered residents’ concerns about debris removal and its storage, and moved forward with a wastewater project at plant 6 along Coco Plum Drive.

Local Soul, a non-profit organization led by three women, is seeking to beautify the city’s signage. They gave a brief presentation on Marathon’s image for locals and visitors, asking what residents wanted their city to look like. Local Soul said the city could look like a strip mall or a quirky fishing village surrounded by nature. Hurricane Irma has provided a unique opportunity to rebuild with a better sense of community character, they said.

Signage gives an impression of Marathon, and at the moment, it is plastic, a representative said. They suggested matching awnings at strip malls to create a sense of unity, have them color-coordinated and use more creativity.

The group offered help with design and a partial grant, asking the city to help match their grant. The city has waived the permitting fees for signage for two months and has been expediting sign requests, and Local Soul asked that this be extended for 12 months. There was a signup sheet for anyone who wanted to get involved with improved signage.

Mark Senmartin led a discussion about hurricane-related debris, asking about piles at Marathon Manor adjacent to the high school, and for updates for hauling from the Manor property and burning and/or grinding. 

City Manager Chuck Lyndsey said the city had collected 300,000 cubic yards of debris and had completed its second pass for pickup. 

“Irma was catastrophic,” Lyndsey said. “People are going to continue to get frustrated.” 

He said he was happy with the work of the city’s contractor, and as Marathon’s debris was lessening, the school district had elected to pile debris at the Manor property, which it owns. He urged patience.

“As we get going with our third pass in November, the pile at the Manor will go down dramatically as loads are taken away,” Lyndsey said. 

Regarding numbers, Lyndsey said initially he expected debris removal to cost $20 million, but now staff was thinking it will cost between $13 million to $15 million. 

Lyndsey said there was another item to think about. 

“As the properties develop, namely Marathon Manor, 47th Street and Jojos, we’ll lose these spots for debris, and we’ll have to find other options in the future, so we’ll talk about that,” he said. “The bottom line is, we live on this beautiful island and there’s just not a lot of land.”

The Federal Emergency Management Association requires the city to reduce debris piles, so burning was optimal and grinding was an option. 

“The forest service wants us only burning from noon to dusk,” he said. “We have 180 days, and after that, the city is on the hook for all the debris.”

He said as Thanksgiving comes around, Christmas lights will come out and things will be better.

Vice Mayor Michelle Coldiron said she wanted to push Tallahassee on pursuing affordable housing allocations. 

“In 2023, we will be at buildout, which includes affordable/workforce housing units,” she noted, which raises concerns about meeting the needs of local workers.

Councilman John Bartus echoed that, and said getting six more hours on the Keys evacuation model may help with building in the future. Mayor Dan Zieg added that hurricane evacuation worked perfectly for Irma, so the governor may acknowledge that by awarding the county with more building allocations.

Lyndsey suggested adopting a resolution asking for 200 affordable housing units. He said he doesn’t want to wait for the county to determine how to use its allocations. 

“They have 700 units, we have six,” he said.

The resolution will recognize the successful evacuation and should present a united front with the county, they agreed.

Despite two residents from the Coco Plum neighborhood speaking out against expanding the plant 6 facility to process solids from all of the city’s wastewater plants, the council agreed to proceed with the design phase. 

“It’s a good project,” Lyndsey said. “We believe it is good for the environment and reduces costs [in the long-term].”

The council discussed odors and how they are combatted and twice-daily truck runs associated with the expansion.

Mark Bombard of the city’s utility department led the discussion about the status of the wastewater plants. 

“All the plants and collection system are running well,” he said, but broken “candy cane” venting pipes and lateral lines at residential homes due to Irma allowed saltwater intrusion and are a challenge.

Lyndsey said the city’s legislative needs will have to change for the year, given Irma’s damage. More affordable housing units are necessary — and a priority, he said.

On the federal side, tracking changes on flood insurance is necessary, Lyndsey said. With Monroe being a huge donor community — traditionally, it pays more than it gets back — following policy changes is warranted.

Lastly, Zieg recognized Centennial Bank, which donated 1,000 hotdogs, hamburgers and buns to the recent “Irmageddon” community outing. Centennial Bank was also providing food for the event at Crane Point Nature Center and Museum the subsequent weekend.