December 5, 2018

Alligator Reef Light sits about four miles off Islamorada.

File Alligator Reef Light sits about four miles off Islamorada.

ISLAMORADA — Alligator Reef Light, the centerpiece of the village of Islamorada’s municipal seal, needs money.

Village Council members agreed to do what they can, without dipping too deeply into the municipal budget.

“Lighthouse Larry” Herlth, an artist and advocate for preserving the 136-foot-tall reef light, updated the council on the status of the historic structure Nov. 29.

“We’re getting to a point where something has to be done,” Herlth said “It is a monumental undertaking that definitely needs the community and everyone else to help with this.”

The federal General Services Administration plans to declare all the Keys lighthouses on the reef as surplus in the near future since they no longer serve a navigational function, he said.

The lights will not be torn down but they could be donated to a nonprofit group. Herlth said he is working to establish a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Alligator Reef Light, which is 145 years old. Repairs could run from $4 million to $6 million, he said.

“It’s a daunting figure but part of our maritime history,” he said.

The light “is such an important thing to our community,” Councilwoman Cheryl Meads said, “but we as a municipality can’t afford it.”

The council encouraged Herlth to pursue the nonprofit angle and instructed staff to have Islamorada’s state and federal lobbyists pursue government grants for preservation.

“To get it refurbished would be so great,” frequent commenter Van Cadenhead said. “The little-bitty, dinky light that they have out there now just doesn’t cut it.”

In other items at the Nov. 29 session:

• Liquor licenses were granted to the Fisher Inn on Windley Key and the Twisted Shrimp restaurant on Planation Key.

Both businesses meet requirements and were endorsed by staff. No one objected to the licenses during brief quasi-judicial hearings.

• An agreement with the Freebee shuttle service was approved for a six-month trial period at a cost to Islamorada of $81,000. The service, free to local residents and visitors, runs limited hours four days a week on Upper Matecumbe Key.

“Our goal is to get people off the road,” Mayor Deb Gillis said of U.S. 1 through Islamorada. “It may alleviate a lot of traffic.”

Council members acknowledged the service, using two small electric-powered buses, may not fit Islamorada’s needs.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Councilman Jim Mooney said. “It may not work out at all.”

The contract can be canceled with 10 days notice, Village Manager Seth Lawless said. If successful, the service could be expanded to all four Islamorada islands.

• Islamorada has taken $2.5 million from its line of credit, authorized primarily for hurricane work, Finance Director Maria Bassett reported.

“That money’s well spent” on canal restoration and removal of marine debris, she said.

Islamorada has an additional $5 million in its line of credit, authorized to allow spending while waiting for federal reimbursement of hurricane expenses.