Friday, January 31, 2014

Bernard Spinrad: the man who saved history

by Jason Koler
Keys Weekly, January 31, 2014

Bernard Spinrad is not unlike other retirees living in the Keys. He belongs to the Yacht Club and enjoys sipping wine with his wife of nearly 50 years, Marien.

However, there are not too many who can say they orchestrated a $75 million deal to rehabilitate and restore the historic 7 Mile Bridge.

When given credit for the monumental feat, Spinrad quickly defers to his organization and County Commissioner George Neugent.

“I would like to say we were influential in reaching this goal,” Sprinad admits through a melting pot of foreign accents. “That honor belongs to George.”

Bernard Spinrad is a man with a lively email account and if you work for the Department of Transportation, were elected to office, or have walked on the Earth since Christmas, chances you have been the recipient of one of his lengthy, yet pointed messages.

One trait Bernard Spinrad is known to posses is persistence.

“He and FO7 (Friends of Old 7) kept the troops rallied,” explained Neugent. “From the very beginning he showed a great focus and drive to do the right thing – which was to save the bridge.”

This past November, the Board of County Commissioners approved the framework of a deal between the DOT, Monroe County, and city of Marathon; a journey Spinrad started nearly two years ago when he attended his first “Save Old Seven” meeting.

Upon his arrival to the group he immediately brought focus and organization to the effort. Under his direction F07 secured corporate status as a 501-c3, developed a website, and became the county’s lead partner to build a coalition between public and private entities.

He cites the recent county approval to repair the bridge as one of his personal highlights – which includes earning degrees in physics and business from UCLA, teaching economics in Costa Rica, and helping to draft the framework for modern tourism in Aruba.

“They had a mono-economy which was solely reliant on oil,” said Spinrad of 1980s Aruba. The incremental plan succeeded in increasing hotel rooms from 1,800 to 12,000 and annual visitors from 180,000 to over a million within three decades. “My focus was to make sustainable tourism projects that were also economically feasible using local materials and food – rational tourism development.”

Sprinrad is both a student and teacher of tourism. He sits on the DAC III for Middle Keys and sees Marathon at a precarious crossroad.

“We can be a very successful tourist destination, but we need to be careful,” he said. “There is a temptation that once development cranks up – there is no stopping it. Tourism has the propensity to ruin the product that it originally used to attract tourism in the first place.”

He cites the cycle of Miami Beach as shining example of what (and what not) to do.

“It became popular in the ’40s and reached its height in the ’50s, and then died in the ’60s,” he said. “Miami Beach then reshaped itself in the ’80s by historical preservation, focusing on other markets by making it desirable by the groups that influence tourism – fashion, celebrities, etc. “

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Letter from the President

Dear Friends of Old Seven;

We are so very excited to announce that on December 11, 2013, the Monroe County Commission voted 4-1 to work with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the city of Marathon on a plan to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge!  On December 12, 2013, the City of Marathon voted 5-0 in favor of adopting this plan.  We are on the road to restoration!

Under the terms of the agreement, FDOT would maintain ownership of Henry Flagler’s 100-year-old railroad bridge. Also, FDOT would pay $57 million of the projected $77 million in repair and maintenance costs over the next 30 years. Monroe County would pay $14.2 million, and Marathon would pay $5.3 million to help cover the cost of repairs. The county would have to pay an additional $720,000 up front to repair the Pigeon Key ramp, according to the agreement.

We are deeply appreciative of the amazing support that you have given to this effort!  In addition, we wish to thank the Monroe County Commissioners, the City of Marathon and the Florida Department of Transportation for this important agreement.  Friends of Old Seven will continue to work with the responsible entities to ensure that the entire area between Knights Key and Pigeon Key, including the Old Seven Mile Bridge, becomes a world-class facility capable of serving the recreational needs of Monroe County residents and of the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to enjoy it each year.  Henry Flagler’s historical masterpiece will be preserved for this and future generations, while creating a new economic engine for the entire Florida Keys.

We expect 2014 to be full of positive news, which we intend to share with you as we progress along this exciting new road.

We wish you all the best for the coming Holidays and New Year.


Bernard Spinrad, President

Friday, May 24, 2013

Gloria Estefan joins campaign to save Miami Marine Stadium


The long campaign to resurrect one of South Florida’s least-seen architectural gems, the shuttered Miami Marine Stadium, is getting a turbo boost from one of the town’s most recognizable figures: Songstress, entrepreneur and — did you know this? — preservationist Gloria Estefan.

Read more here:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Economic and Fiscal Impact Study for Friends of Old Seven

Camoin Associates was commissioned by Friends of Old Seven Inc. (FO7) to conduct an economic impact analysis on the restoration and enhancement of the 2.2 mile stretch between Knights Key (Marathon) and Pigeon Key.  Click the following link to read the report.  FinalReport-EconomicImpact-OldSeven

Monday, May 6, 2013


03, 2013

by Michael Welber

There’s an old joke that goes, “If you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you.” In other words, you’re gullible. While the bridge in the oft repeated saying originally refers to the Brooklyn Bridge, Monroe County might be wondering if the joke’s on them when it comes to acquiring the Old Seven Mile Bridge at the west end of Marathon.

So is Monroe County buying? Maybe not.

Favored by locals and tourists alike who love to walk or bike the 2.2 miles to Pigeon Key, the bridge has been closed to automobiles since December 2007. And yet, even though it’s no longer a bridge used by traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation, surprisingly, has blocked attempts to release engineering studies of the bridge to the general public.

Why? Because a Florida state law passed right after 9/11 mandated that plans and reports for all state bridges be classified. This came as a result of a request from Homeland Security.

The county commission, which has been considering taking over the bridge, was blindsided by the turn of events.

“I was surprised that it applied to the unused remnants of the Seven Mile Bridge because it’s not being used for transportation purposes,” said county commissioner Danny Kolhage.

Kolhage and Commissioner Heather Carruthers put the brakes on any further consideration of a transfer of ownership until the county can get a report that they can show to a qualified structural engineer and not just county staff. Right now DOT only wants to provide what’s known as a redacted version, one with portions covered by the state law blacked out. Kolhage doesn’t think that’s enough.

“I don’t really think that’s going to be successful because what should be made public is what DOT rates the bridge that has to do with its conditions. There are photos of what’s beneath the water line. If Monroe County is contemplating a multi-million dollar expenditure of tax funds on this bridge then the public has the right to have all the information. I don’t think a redacted version will be helpful.”

Bernard Spinrad, who is board president of Friends of Old Seven, a volunteer grass roots organization that has been working hard to save the bridge for continued use as a recreational facility, was also surprised by the turn of events.

“It’s a bit of a blow. It’s a situation we’ve been trying to break for a while and we’ve not been successful. We have a really good relationship with DOT but they are bound by state law and Homeland Security rules that can’t really be flexible,” he said.

So is the bridge really threatened by terrorists? Gus Pego, District Six Secretary for Miami and the Keys, thinks it is.

“Pedestrians are on there and anyone could do terrible things. I am not going to make light of Boston, believe me. I would say you just don’t know what people are going to do. I have no problem with the law,” he commented.

Kolhage is not sure. “I just don’t understand why the law still applies for this structure. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

There’s no doubt that terrorist attacks, though nowhere near as frequent as in places such as Tel Aviv, Beirut, Islamabad, or Damascus, have ratcheted up the fear factor in the U.S. The bombing at the Boston marathon increased that fear with calls for many more security cameras, much greater inspection everywhere, and a greater push for a general tightening of regulations. A friend who is participating in a bicycle ride through the boroughs of New York City has been told that she can’t bring a backpack or use panniers on a forty mile bike ride.

The other issue, as always, is money. According to State Representative Holly Raschein’s office, “The estimated cost for the rehabilitation of the Old Seven Mile Bridge including steel paint system replacement is approximately $18 Million but the estimate will take into consideration what type of design vehicle will service Pigeon Key, which will be determined in consultation with the Pigeon Key Foundation, the City of Marathon and Monroe County during the design process. The future long term routine maintenance based on average statewide cost excluding the required biannual routine inspection is estimated to be around $70,000 per year. This cost includes minor concrete repairs, sealing cracks, welding, sign replacement, spot steel painting, trash pickup, etc. Additionally, due to the aggressive corrosion environment that the bridge is subject to, it is estimated that the bridge painting system will need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years at an estimated average cost of $3.5 Million.”

That’s a lot of money with no public disclosure.

Sprinrad, even though his organization is enthusiastic about saving the bridge and has done a terrific job of spreading the word via its website ( and a newsletter, is somewhat pessimistic about where this will go.

 “I think they need a structural engineer specializing in bridge stability. Danny Kolhage has said that he believes that the underwater structures might be like sponges. Now that’s a very serious possibility because everybody assumes that the work has to be on the surface, particularly on the deck. But if there’s a lot of work to be done under the water the whole thing not be really doable. We’re talking about a lot of money.”

He wants the bridge decommissioned and handed over to the County for use as a recreational facility. Pego says that might not change anything. The county is a government agency and would be subject to the same rules as DOT. He did add, however, that the county is free – right now – to show the reports to an independent structural engineer as long as that person signs an affidavit vowing to never release the information to the public. Such a study could go a long way to resolving the issue. Or not.

However, whatever develops, the public, the taxpayers, will not be allowed to view any of the relevant information. Ever.

To read the article in The Blue Paper, go to

Saturday, April 6, 2013

City extends bridge kiosk permit

BY PATTI LAVELL Free Press Contributor
MARATHON — The Marathon City Council voted unanimously last week to extend Friends of Old Seven’s kiosk permit for another year.

The non-profit group obtained a permit from the city last year to place the information booth at the entrance to the historic bridge. Members of the group staff the kiosk, handing out leaflets and answering questions.

The group collects approximately $10,000 per month in donations and, after paying overhead costs, is left with about $2,000 for community outreach.

A representative from the group told the City Council that an economic impact study, funded in part by the city, should be ready for review in a couple of weeks. The study analyzed the financial benefits the community could reap if the old Seven Mile Bridge is repaired and restored.

Two weeks ago, the Monroe County Commission gave staff approval to investigate the possibility of restoring the old bridge. The Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for half the cost — estimated at $18 million — if the county takes over maintenance of the structure. According to County Administrator Roman Gastesi, annual maintenance would run about $70,000 and painting the bridge every 10 years would cost $3.5 million.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Court order for bridge reports possible – Commissioner wants info public if county takes over old span

If the Monroe County Commission agrees to take control of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, Commissioner Danny Kolhage will request the county also seek a court order declassifying inspection reports for the structure.

The bridge is now maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which has agreed to pay half of $18 million in renovations to the bridge if the county takes it over and maintains it.

In recent weeks, Kolhage has spearheaded an effort to make FDOT release to the public a series of inspection reports on the Old Seven Mile Bridge.

County commissioners have seen the reports but are unable to make them public because the Department of Homeland Security deemed portions “classified.”

FDOT also refused to release the reports to The Citizen, citing security concerns, FDOT spokesman Brian Rick said.

“Bridge inspection reports contain information related to the physical security of the structures,” Rick wrote in an email to The Citizen. “This information is confidential and exempt from public inspection.

At the last County Commission meeting, Kolhage and Commissioner Heather Carruthers said the inspection reports show some structural issues and problems, but they did not go into detail. They are both concerned about the proposal to take possession of the bridge and be responsible for its ongoing maintenance.

Kolhage questioned why the reports are classified, as the bridge is no longer used for automobile traffic.

State statute allows the county to take FDOT to court in an effort to make the reports public, Kolhage said.

“If FDOT wants Monroe County to spend millions of taxpayer dollars and take on responsibility of a 100-year-old bridge, the public has a right to know the full condition of the bridge,” Kolhage said Thursday.

He wants the reports reviewed by county engineers or a county-contracted private engineering firm to determine the exact condition of the bridge below the water line.

Kolhage asked the County Attorney’s Office to research the issue to determine whether the classified status could change, including allowing engineers to review the inspection reports.

On top of the $18 million renovation cost, the annual cost of maintaining the Old Seven Mile Bridge would be about $70,000 a year, plus $3.5 million every 10 years to paint it, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.

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.

Carruthers and Kolhage are concerned that those costs could rise, as FDOT did not include costs for work below the water line.

The two commissioners are also concerned that the project is being fast-tracked.

The minutes from a Feb. 25 meeting of the nonprofit group Friends of Old Seven show that County Mayor George Neugent, Commissioners Sylvia Murphy and David Rice and FDOT representative Dennis Fernandez attended.

Fernandez is quoted in the minutes as saying the “first of several draft agreements have been prepared, including one between FDOT and an engineering consultant to design the bridge restoration work and another between FDOT and Monroe County for the actual transferal of ownership of the bridge.”

The minutes also state the county would responsible for the renovation of the Pigeon Key ramp, which would cost $500,000.

Carruthers was upset.

“I am furious that an ILA (inter-local agreement) has been drafted,” she said.

“It is way too premature to be going down this road … . People are making decisions before this has been properly vetted.”

At the March County Commission meeting, commissioners gave the county administrator the go-ahead to investigate spending county taxpayer money to renovate the bridge, but not approval to move forward with the actual renovations yet.

Friday, March 15, 2013

General Membership Meeting 2-25-13 Minutes

Minutes for Monday, February 25th, 2013

5:30 – 7 pm  – City of Marathon Firehouse

General Membership Meeting

Roll Call by Bernard Spinrad, who introduced “Special Guests”, among others:

Holly Raschein, State Representative for the Florida Keys, and Erin Muir, her Legislative Assistant

George Neugent, Mayor, Monroe County
David Rice, Commissioner, Monroe County
Sylvia Murphy, Commissioner, Monroe County
Roman Gastesi, Administrator, Monroe County
Kevin Wilson, Chief Engineer, Monroe County
Trish Smith, Planner, Monroe County
Judy Williams Coordinator for ”Scenic Highway Alliance”

Mike Cinque, Mayor, City of Marathon
Roger Hernstadt, Manager, City of Marathon

Dennis Fernandez- FDOT District 6
Patty Ivey, FDOT, Marathon Office

Ed Swift – former Monroe Co. Commissioner and CEO, Historic Tours, Inc.

And various members of the Friends of Old Seven Board of Directors and volunteers

Financial Status: Given by Bernard Spinrad (Mr. Jeff Shocket not in attendance).

  • FO7 has between $22-$25K in its Treasury.
  • City of Marathon has put up a grant for $10k to combine with FO7’s $3.5K to pay for a study to determine the economic impact on the Middle Keys of restoring the Old Seven Mile Bridge; total cost = $13,500.
  • Ms Raschein donated the “unused portion” of her campaign monies to save Old 7.

Bridge Head Operations: Given by Brad White

  • FO7 paid kiosk personnel are on the bridge almost daily from “Sunrise to Sunset” (about 8am – 6 pm.). He stated an “average day” (during season) about 600 people visit the bridge and an spend an average of $500/day in gross sales yielding this past year (2012) approx. $100k. This bridge site income is a combination of both sales (shirts/hats/assorted items.) and people’s donations at the table. Sales have risen since the implementation of the “onsite credit card” system which was newly implemented.
  • Approximately 10k petition signatures were taken from the bridge last year. The petition signatures were given to the consultant doing the economic impact study to provide accurate data for the projections to be used to promote saving the bridge. Also the issue of the FO7 “Bridge information/donation table” permitting was brought up.

Saving Old Seven – Status Report – by Bernard Spinrad w/input from Guests

Summation of talks: Construction is expected to start in 2015 as the design/study phase will take about 1.5 years to complete. In the meantime, monies were found to finance the Pigeon Key ferry for another year. It was stated and all agreed the saving of the Old 7 section was not just a Middle Keys project but rather a Monroe Co. wide one with ramifications in its scope to effect substantial income, job creation etc.

Mr. Gastesi mentioned that BP monies would be forthcoming to the State and Monroe County, but indicate it’s premature to calculate what portion of these may be targeted for the restoration and/or maintenance of the bridge.

It was mentioned that our “infrastructure sales tax”, currently extended to 2033 through a recent referendum, yields about $15 million a year with the primary use slotted for “waste water”. Under optimum circumstances, a portion of these funds can be directed at the restoration of the bridge.

Dennis Fernandez, representing the Secretary of FDOT’s District 6, Mr. Gus Pego, stated the first of several draft agreements are been prepared, including one between FDOT and an engineering consultant to design the bridge restoration work, and another one between FDOT and Monroe County for the actual transferral of ownership of the bridge from FDOT to Monroe County. The projects overall rough numbers being discussed were:

  • $18 million to restore the bridge (engineering design fees included) to a service life of 40 years.
  • $70,000 per year, average annual maintenance costs.
  • $50,000 bi-annual bridge inspection fee, to be covered by FDOT
  •  $3.5 million every 10 years for painting

Mr. Fernandez also mentioned the Pigeon Key ramp reconstruction would cost approximately $500,000, which would be the responsibility of Monroe County.

George Neugent brought up “getting Sunset Park into the mix”, as well as impressing on the Governor and the Legislature that this project will create “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”.

Sunset Park ADA Improvements Project – Bernard Spinrad related a progress status conversation he had with Mr. Dean Stoddart, FDEP Manager concerning this $1.2 million project. The project is well underway, quickly approaching the 30% final design point. A fairly final draft of the proposed plan was distributed to the audience.

Awards Ceremony: A copious amount of awards were issued (see accompanying picture-taken by Mike Cross hence not in photo) to Rep. Raschein, Mayor Neugent and various supporters, contributors and volunteers to our organization.
Upcoming Fund-Raising Events/Opportunities – These items were not covered in detail as several attendants had to leave to attend another event. However, Mr. Jerry Chapman spoke at length about scheduling, sometime early next year, a “Black-Tie” fund-raising event; discussions are under way to further detail this initiative.

New Business/Open Discussion. No new business. Discussion brought to the floor by the Silva’s (visiting) to sell “Bricks” to be placed on or near the bridge so people get the feeling on “ownership”

Close of Meeting- Adjourned at 7:25.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Community Foundation Honors FO7 President Bernard Spinrad as One of 2013 Unsung Heroes

The Community Foundation of the Florida Keys (CFFK), established in 1996, leads a number of initiatives to make the Florida Keys by encouraging philanthropy and matching donors to community needs.  As well, they have granted more than $16 million from donor and other funds to support local non-profits.  Every year, they celebrate volunteers who have made invaluable contributions of time, energy and talents.  This year, Friends of Old Seven’s president, Bernard Spinrad, will be among 71 honored at the CFFK’s 13th annual Unsung Heroes Luncheon at the Casa Marina resort on February 1,  2013.  For a complete description of these wonderful volunteers, click this link: 2013UnsungHeroes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pigeon Key Poster to Aid Restoration of Old Seven

PIGEON KEY, Florida Keys  – In the early 1900′s , visionary entrepreneur and developer Henry Flagler, the “Father of Florida”,  fulfilled his extraordinary goal to build an Overseas Railroad to connect Miami to Key West.  The remarkable series of bridges (now 42 in all ) spanned 110 miles,  linking island to island to create the Florida Keys and carried cargo and passengers along the way until 1935,  when an unexpected, Category 5 Hurricane destroyed the portion that serviced the Tavernier/Islamorada area.  One of the crown jewels in this chain was the “Seven Mile Bridge”,  linking Marathon (Mile Marker 50)  to Little Duck Key, better known today as Veterans Park.

The railroad bridges were converted into an automotive Overseas Highway, thanks to the State of  Florida who bought the entire “Flagler- right of way”.  Steel girders, braces and poured concrete were engineered to convert each bridge into a two lane highway, completed in 1938.  A toll was charged, to pay off the debt to the state.  Managed by the Overseas Road and Toll Bridge District, the debt was paid off in less than 5 years. Pigeon Key, nestled under the Old 7 Mile and owned by Monroe County, remained headquarters for the workers who maintained the bridges until it was leased to the University of Miami for Marine Biology Studies. Today, the island, including its renowned Flagler Railroad Museum, managed and operated by the Pigeon Key Foundation (PKF), a non-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation on behalf of Monroe County. The Pigeon Key Foundation currently runs a number of valuable educational and community-oriented program.

The new Seven Mile Bridge was opened in 1982, leaving the old portion to Pigeon Key open for walking and bicycle traffic, as well as for limited vehicular traffic to and from the island.

For the last 30 years, the original 7 Mile Bridge has been a popular 2 mile recreational span on which hundreds of people walk and bike,  enjoying ocean breezes, spectacular views and photograph gorgeous sunsets.  Over one hundred thousand people per year use the bridge as they enjoy an open-air-aquarium where baby sharks, tropical fish, barracuda, rays and tarpon swim through its historic century old pilings, span after span.

But this historic landmark to Pigeon Key is crumbling and without a massive overhaul, doomed to be condemned and closed. Due to deteriorating structural conditions, FDOT restricted vehicular traffic from the bridge, allowing only pedestrians, joggers and bikes.

The Old Seven Mile Bridge has been integral part of Pigeon Key’s character and history for a century, and such an action would be catastrophic to the island’s residents, marine biology students, visitors, and the tourism economy.

The Florida Department of Transportation has pledged to cover half of the $18-22 million cost of returning the original Seven Mile Bridge to structural integrity, with the other half to come from outside sources.  The volunteer grassroots organization, Friends of Old Seven ( FO7 ), has stepped up to save this important, public treasure .

As part of the fund raising efforts, the FO7 Board of Directors commissioned Beach Town Posters  artist, Aurelio Grisanty,  to create a Retro Art Deco travel poster celebrating Pigeon Key.  This poster, which features The “Old Seven” and Pigeon Key’s Historic Architecture , will be sold to raise money for the bridge reconstruction.

FO7 Board Member Bettye Chaplin explained that Beach Town Posters was a natural fit for the dual purposes for FO7: to educate and inspire people about Pigeon Key, and to celebrate its history.  Beach Town Posters is a series of original art travel posters, designed by Grisanty, that feature beloved classic American beach towns and islands.

“We wanted a beautiful, appealing, high quality item that would constantly remind people of the wonderful times they spent on Pigeon Key, the ‘tiny island with a big history.” Chaplin says.  “ Beach Town Posters has an international following due to their stylish aesthetic and historical reverence.  We are excited to have them design a Pigeon Key Poster.”

The Pigeon Key Art Poster will be sold in the Pigeon Key Museum Shop, selected art galleries and gift shops, at “Friends of Old 7″ fund raising events, and online at