Florida Keys News
Friday, March 15, 2013
Dream projects could become realities
Old Seven Mile Bridge, Higgs Beach, Rowell's Marina mulled

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has tentatively agreed to pay half of the $18 million to rehabilitate the Old Seven Mile Bridge, but with the condition the county take it over and pay for annual maintenance.

The Old Seven Mile Bridge project will be one of three multimillion-dollar projects the County Commission will discuss when it meets Wednesday in Marathon. The commission will also discuss funding the multiyear Higgs Beach Master Plan and the purchase of Rowell's Marina in Key Largo.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi has called for a discussion "to investigate the feasibility and cost of (these) quality of life projects."

"These are the projects I continue to hear about as I travel throughout the Keys," Gastesi said. "I just want to know if they want me to investigate looking at these projects."

The Old Seven Mile Bridge has been closed to vehicles, including a tram that ran between Knight Key and Pigeon Key. Pedestrians can still use the bridge, but a ferry is used to shuttle people to Pigeon Key.

For the past several years, the county and the city of Marathon have been discussing funding repairs to the Old Seven Mile Bridge, but the project has been too costly. Having the state pay for half the repairs is a big step, but maintenance costs could stall the project.

The annual cost of maintaining the Old Seven Mile Bridge would be about $70,000, and the county would have to spend $3.5 million every 10 years to paint it, Gastesi said. The county would have to set aside about $420,000 a year to cover the annual costs and save for the 10-year paint job, he said.

Also on Wednesday, the County Commission is supposed to hear draft findings of a study that shows how much tourism and visitor revenue a completely restored Old Seven Mile Bridge would generate, said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation.

"It's been a long journey to get to where we are at," McKinnon said. "I am extremely excited."

The commission has also been discussing redeveloping Higgs Beach in Key West and purchasing Rowell's Marina. The tentative cost to redevelop Higgs Beach Park -- which calls for moving Atlantic Boulevard -- is $5.9 million, according to County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, who has spearheaded the effort to revamp the county park on Key West..

The county recently built a new children's park there, and is still waiting to see if the Florida Department of Transportation would pay for moving Atlantic Boulevard, which will cost $1.5 million, Carruthers said.

Gastesi did not have a cost estimate for the purchase of Rowell's Marina, 8 acres of bayfront property at Mile Marker 104. He first proposed the purchase shortly after being hired, but the idea was shot down as the county was still receiving grief for buying the Hickory House marina property on Stock Island. The county purchased the Hickory House for $3.1 million in 2006, and has been trying to sell it since.

However, Rowell's is much different than the Hickory House because it has room for a boat ramp, storage and trailer parking, Upper Keys County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said.

The commission will discuss the three projects when it meets 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center.


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