Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Feds concerned with zip line's impact on birds

MARATHON -- Anyone wishing to go zipping through the tropical hardwood canopy at Crane Point Museum and Nature Center could have to temper their excitement.

A Jan. 13 letter to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity from Cindy Fury, leader of the Florida Caribbean Migratory Bird Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, singles out the white-crowned pigeon, a protected species under federal law as well as a threatened species according to the state, as a reason for shelving or restricting the proposed zip-line project.

The letter blindsided the board of directors of the Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust, which operates Crane Point.

"It's certainly a setback," said Jeff Smith, a director on Crane Point's board for eight years and senior vice president/senior lender at First State Bank of the Florida Keys. But, he added the situation is being handled and the board plans to respond.

Possible options include mitigating for white-crowned pigeon habitat or conducting bird studies, he said.

Smith says given the board's differing opinion with the content of the letter, it's a hurdle they hope to overcome.

He also said the zip-line project is not Marathon's only capital project impacted, since the letter specifically cites bird disturbance at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport through an observance that the pigeons flush during departures of airplanes. The airport is moving toward becoming a customs port-of-entry.

The 12-page letter states that should the zip-line project proceed, U.S. Fish and Wildlife recommends that Crane Point shut down its operation during pigeon breeding season from May through September.

Optimally, it says, construction and operation should not take place from May to mid-October to better allow for the pigeons' proper migratory patterns.

The letter, however, is only advisory, leaving the decision with DEO.

Upon the request from the Marathon City Council, Councilwoman Ginger Snead attended the Jan. 17 Florida Keys Land and Sea Trust board meeting where the letter was discussed and delivered a report to the council at its Jan. 28 meeting.

The city of Marathon has secured a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant from the DEO to help Crane Point build the $1.1 million attraction. The grant is set to expire in October.

Snead recommended that the city step back from the zip-line project until the trust's board determines its course of action.

Meanwhile, the council last week deferred discussion of using a recruiting firm to hire a permanent city manager to replace Roger Hernstadt until a 6 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Feb. 5, at the Marathon fire station.

Hernstadt has begun his new job in Marco Island, and Mike Puto, interim Marathon city manager, is expected to confirm his contract with the city at the Feb. 5 meeting as well.

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