Monroe County Commissioner Danny Kolhage will ask his fellow commissioners Wednesday to seek a court order to force state transportation officials to unseal a 62-page inspection report for the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) released a heavily redacted version of the report this week, after Kolhage and others lobbied to make the entire report public. FDOT is refusing to release the entire report because the Department of Homeland Security deemed portions of it classified.
Far more of the report is redacted than not. Most pages are almost entirely blacked out.
"It's completely unusable, as I knew it would be," Kolhage said of the redacted version.
Kolhage told The Citizen on Friday that he will now ask his fellow commissioners to ask the county attorney to file a lawsuit against FDOT to make "the full document" open to the public. Kolhage will make his request when the commission meets Wednesday at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo.
The commissioner is making the request because FDOT has agreed to pay half the $18 million to renovate the top sections of the bridge on the condition that the county takes over control and maintenance of the bridge.
FDOT has told the County Commission that the annual cost of maintaining the Old Seven Mile Bridge would be about $70,000 a year, and the county would have to spend $3.5 million every 10 years to paint it. 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.
Kolhage is concerned that the bridge below the waterline is in disrepair and not structurally sound. He has seen the entire inspection report, but is unable to release it to the public.
"With this amount of public money being potentially put toward this project, the public needs to be able to see this report in its entirety," he said.
At a previous commission meeting, commissioners told the county attorney and the public works director to ask FDOT if the county could have a private engineering firm review the report. FDOT approved the request, but only if the firm signed a confidentiality agreement, County Attorney Bob Shillinger said.
County staff has begun negotiating with a firm to conduct the review, Shillinger said. The commission did not rule out having the firm inspect the bridge itself.
Several business groups and city officials in Marathon have been lobbying the county and FDOT to renovate the bridge. The bridge is now only used by pedestrians. A tram used to drive on the bridge, shuttling guests to and from the old Flagler railroad camp on Pigeon Key. County and Marathon officials have said they expect FDOT to completely shut down the bridge any day now.