June 13, 2018

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
Rowell's Waterfront Park, which became the county's 20th park in 2014, remains closed nine months after Hurricane Irma.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press Rowell's Waterfront Park, which became the county's 20th park in 2014, remains closed nine months after Hurricane Irma.

KEY LARGO — Rowell’s Waterfront Park remains on standby to potentially store hurricane-related marine debris from Monroe County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and closed to the public.

The 8-acre bayfront park at mile marker 104.5 opened in June 2016 to the public as a dog-friendly, free park but was closed immediately following Hurricane Irma to store vegetative and appliance debris.

Ahead of the storm, plans for the park, which the county purchased for $5 million in 2014, showed two bathrooms, a kayak launch, a grass field and landscaping. During a public meeting, county officials said work on the park would be done in stages beginning with the Florida Department of Transportation-funded bathrooms, closer to U.S. 1.

Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said those plans are still in the works.

“We are getting money for the bathrooms and the parking lot. We can’t have a sandy beach, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We will have nice grass, and probably a sandbox and a playground,” Murphy said.

But Murphy said the park remains on standby as a marine debris staging area after canal cleanup come to an abrupt halt when contractor DRC Emergency Services pulled out of the Keys citing higher-than-expected housing costs.

Murphy said construction of a new Plantation Key government center, estimated at $30 million, may take priority over Rowell’s.

“Work needs to start on the Plantation Key courthouse first,” she added.

Key Largo has the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center at mile marker 102, bayside, for sunset viewing and Key Largo Community Park, mile marker 99.7, oceanside, she said. 

Jim Boilini, who serves on the county’s parks and recreation advisory board, said safety inspections at Rowell’s due to debris storage and processing there need to be completed before any work begins.

“I do know that several safety surveys will be done to ensure the ground is not contaminated. That is costly, I think,” he said.

The park’s redesign is funded through a Florida Department of Transportation grant and partially through a Monroe County Tourist Development Council grant.

Last month, the Monroe County commissioners voted to start negotiations with the owners of Murray Marine to purchase the 6.4-acre marina with 182 boat slips for roughly $8 million.

tjava@keysnews.com