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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
City to build $2M fuel station at Navy pier

The City Commission tonight will decide whether to award a $2 million contract to the D.N. Higgins firm for the construction of a fuel station and switchgear enclosures at the Navy's Outer Mole pier.

Higgins, a Michigan company that has had an office in Naples since 1989, delivered the lowest non-local bid although a Big Pine Key company, Pedro Falcon Electrical Contractors, Inc. told the city it would match Higgins' low bid.

City staff, though, deemed the Falcon bid "non-responsive," finding that part of the application didn't meet requirements, Engineer Terrence Justice wrote in a memo to the city manager's office.

Commissioners meet at 6 p.m. tonight at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St., and staff's recommendation for the Higgins contract isn't set for discussion, since it's included on the consent agenda, a list of items voted on in one fell swoop.

The $2 million would come from the city's Navy reserves account, fueled not by tax dollars but by disembarkment fees collected from cruise ship companies that use the Navy-owned Outer Mole pier, said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

The fuel station project has nothing to do with the city's pending request for a 20-year lease for the Navy pier, made in response to the Navy's bombshell announcement four months ago that it may put the pier out to bid.

"That's for the future; this is an agreement in place," Crean said, of the bidding question. "This was bid out in February."

Key West relies on the Outer Mole pier to draw in cruise ships and in recent letters, city leaders have told the Navy that it's in the public's best interest to keep the pier in the city's hands.

Instead of paying rent to the Navy for access to the pier, the city manages construction and maintenance projects.

Key West's lease runs out on June 30.

Since 2007, the city has spent $9.7 million on "significant upgrades," City Manager Bob Vitas wrote in a letter to the Navy pleading for the long-term lease.

Vitas told the Navy that losing the pier would disrupt a "critical revenue stream to the island," quoting the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association estimate that cruise ship visitors contribute in excess of $78 million annually to the local economy -- a figure that cruise industry watchdogs have said is overblown.

About 800,000 tourists land in Key West each year from cruise ships, which dock at three spots including Mallory Square and the Outer Mole Pier. A third port is privately owned at the Westin Key West Resort and Marina.

The city charges a $10 per head disembarkment fee at the Outer Mole. The fee is divvied up among the city, the Navy and Historic Tours of America, which is paid to chauffeur passengers over the Navy-owned land into town.

The Navy takes $4 of that $10 and stores it in an account reserved for maintenance and construction, while the city gets $2.50 to make up for public services that support the visitors.

City staff manages the Navy's money and gets approval from them for projects.

The Navy hasn't made a final decision about the pier, but earlier this year put out a solicitation to see if anyone other than the city was interested in leasing the pier. Three responses came in, but the names have been kept confidential as they are outside the grasp of Florida's Sunshine Law, Navy officials have said.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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