News

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

FDOT Funds Huge Recreational Path Project in Tampa

In a region whose growth and traffic has left too little safe space for pedestrians, runners and bicyclists, the Florida Department of Transportation is making a bold, off-road investment.

Work starts next month on a trail along the Courtney Campbell Causeway over Old Tampa Bay. It will be 12 feet wide and, at its highest points along the bridges, up to 45 feet above the water.http://www2.tbo.com/news/opinion/2012/aug/19/vwopino1-stunning-new-walkway-to-span-old-tampa-ba-ar-467398/

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Overseas Highway – One of the 15 Most Amazing Roads in the World

The editors at CarsRoute.com compiled a list of the 15 most amazing roads all around the world, starting with a name that will be familiar to anyone who’s been to the Florida Keys: the Overseas Highway. You can visit the article at http://www.weather.com/travel/driving-scenic-drives/15-most-amazing-roads-20120816

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Imagine 07 – FIU Architectural Students Contemplate Future of Old Seven Mile Bridge

by JASON KOLER, Marathon Weekly Newspaper, Aug. 11, 2012.

This year marks the centennial anniversary of Flagler’s monumental feat of linking mainland Florida to Key West. To coincide with this engineering achievement, a group of students from Florida International University’s College of Architecture and the Arts has completed a three-month program dubbed “IMAGINE O7,” creating conceptual designs to refurbish a portion of the historic old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.

“Flagler’s dream was initially called a ‘folly,’” said Bernard Spinrad, president of Friends of Old Seven, Inc., a nonprofit foundation whose mission is to save, restore, enhance and maintain the bridge. “In his spirit, the FIU students created some revolutionary concepts to get people excited about restoring this iconic structure. Our initial and final intent was to cherry pick the golden nuggets from the students and put them into a doable and practical plan.”

Anna Drescher, 20, of Reading, Penn., placed first Friday among 15 graduate students for her entry featuring five interactive panels, characteristic of Keys mile markers, telling the history of the Keys and the century-old bridge. The panels would be powered by hydroelectricity from tidal currents beneath the bridge.

“It was a challenge to respect what [structure] was already there, as well as care for the history and maintain accessibility,” said Drescher, who worked solo while developing her concept.

Monroe County Mayor David Rice said the project created “intangible benefits” and saw real merit in the student’s work.

“We are not going to see any of those designs in totality,” he added. “But there are some excellent ideas in there and we may very well see some of the components in the new design.”

The open-studio design collaborative was overseen by FIU architecture professor Claudia Busch and landscape architecture professor Roberto Rovira. The graduate students’ working drawings serve as “blue sky visions” intended to catalyze possibilities for the Old Seven Mile Bridge and its adjoining sites.

Three top designs were selected by a technical advisory committee comprised of engineers, landscape architects, state transportation officials and art/history and architecture professors. Each submission was required to meet criteria such as knowledge of the built and natural environments, critical thinking, creative expression and a convincing design.

“We tasked these young, fresh minds to analyze the bridge and come up with solutions,” said Spinrad. “We told them to be as imaginative as you can, don’t think within terms of a budget, see where your creativity takes you.”

County Commission George Neugent commended each student for their efforts during the awards ceremony.

“I thought it was thought provoking and epitomized the thinking of young creative minds even if some of it was beyond doable,” he said later.

Students traveled to Marathon for site visits to gain insight for initial concepts and impressions before they presented their work at the end of their course.

The chosen design is not to be fully implemented, yet various elements may be considered in the future as part of the redesign of the de facto park and iconic Marathon tourist attraction.

Although replaced by a new Seven Mile Bridge in 1982, the old bridge continues to connect Marathon with Pigeon Key, a tiny island that served as the base camp for workers who built the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad in the early 1900s.

In December 2007, state transportation officials deemed the old span unsafe for vehicular traffic and subsequently closed it to all but pedestrians.

The Friends of Old Seven organization is seeking about $15 million to save the bridge.

The Monroe County Commission funded a $5,000 grant to FIU to help offset summer tuition fees for students participating in the design contest.

Both Neugent and Rice see the latest developments as positive steps in the right direction for Friends of Old Seven and the restoration of the bridge – citing the extension of the 1 penny sales tax in November as well as the (BP Oil) Restore Act as possible funding sources to save the bridge.



FIU Students, Faculty and Judges

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Florida Keys community group trying to rescue old Seven Mile Bridge

By CAMMY CLARK, The Miami Herald – August 21, 2012.

MARATHON — Retired truck driver Norm “Runaway Grandpa” Dille arrived at the old Seven Mile Bridge for his daily ritual. He walked about half a mile roundtrip before plunking down in a green plastic chair to gaze at nature’s beauty and at Henry Flagler’s century-old engineering marvel.

“I love it,” the 71-year-old from Ohio said on a breezy morning last week. “I love the view, the colors, the story behind it with the railroads. And, when I was young, I used to bring my kids down here. I remember the old bridge before the new one was built.”

Runaway Grandpa is among thousands of people who walk, jog, push strollers, bike, picnic, catch the sunrise, toast the sunset and watch for marine life on the world famous bridge, once called the Eighth Wonder of the World and now on the National Register of Historic Places.

How much longer can the bridge’s main 2.2-mile section safely support people? Nobody knows. The steel and concrete bridge, completed exactly 100 years ago to link Marathon to the Lower Keys, is deteriorating in the harsh salt and sun environment. The main section — which goes to historic Pigeon Key, a tiny island that once served as the work camp for the Florida East Coast Railway — already is too unsafe for vehicles and fishermen who continuously lean on the fragile railing.

Last summer, a nonprofit community group called “Friends of Old Seven” was formed to try to rescue the bridge. Leading the charge is Bernard Spinrad, a retired Marathon resident who formerly was Aruba’s director of tourism.

Friends of Old Seven is working with Monroe County, the city of Marathon and the bridge owners (the Florida Department of Transportation) to come up with a bold but practical renovation plan — and the $16 to $20 million needed to fund it.

All sides agree it is in everybody’s longterm interest to save the bridge — which is a major tourist attraction to the Middle Keys but has been “a bridge to nowhere” to FDOT since 1982, when the new Seven Mile Bridge was completed.

“We’ve been trying to give up the old bridge’s ownership for decades,” said Gus Pego, FDOT’s District 6 Secretary. “It’s a recreational facility, not a transportation facility. … And what I tell commissioners and folks who ask me: ‘Given our limited budget, wouldn’t you rather we maintain the new bridge?’ ”

The unique old bridge has generated plenty of free publicity for the Middle Keys. Kisha and Jen pedaled three-wheeled bikes along the bridge to win CBS’ Amazing Race 18. Cuban migrants were found clinging to piling of the old bridge in 2006 that led to a controversial “wet foot/dry foot” case that sent them back to Cuba. And in 1994, the old bridge was famously blown up in True Lies with Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Pego said the parking lot at the entrance to the north end is concrete now thanks to the True Lies crew, which needed a hard surface to launch the U.S. Marine Harriers.

Spinrad said the old Seven Mile Bridge has the potential to boost the local economy even more. He’s been inspired by the cases of two other abandoned railroads that were brought to life by public and private partnerships: the High Line in New York City and Walkway Over the Hudson in upper New York.

“Both are roaring successes, and there are many other examples like that,” Spinrad said. “We are not the lone wolf out there.”

Longtime Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said the county has always wanted to rescue the bridge, but other big-ticket items including waste water management and the central sewer system have taken priority.

But those major county projects are winding down, and money from a multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement may be available for the bridge project.

Under the Gulf Coast Restoration Act of 2012, 23 counties in Florida will be eligible for funding for tourism, economy revival and sustaining natural resources and ecosystems.

“Clearly, the bridge could fall under one of more umbrellas of shovel-ready projects that we could move forward on,” Neugent said. “The act is out of Congress now and passed down to a consortium to divvy up. … Maybe for the old Seven Mile Bridge, the timing is right.”

Pego said no FDOT funding is currently in place for the bridge’s renovation, but the state agency would be willing to commit 50 percent of the costs with one big condition: The county, city or another entity would take over ownership of the bridge upon completion of the work. The new owners would become responsible for maintenance and liability, which could cost around $300,000 annually.

Renovating the bridge also would eliminate the need for ferry service to Pigeon Key, which now costs about $250,000 annually and is split among the county, city and FDOT.

Friends of Old Seven just held a bridge design contest for architecture graduate students at Florida International University. The county kicked in $5,000 of the $12,500 cost.

For the contest, called “Imagine 07,” the students were told to let their imaginations run wild. And they did. They came up with an underwater restaurant, water slide, a ski-lift type people mover that would run under the bridge and “human fish tanks,” where people could view marine life. Good luck getting permits for those endeavors in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

But they also came up with some more practical ideas, including a terraced park at the entrance to the north end and shade areas on top of the bridge.

Anna Drescher, 21, won the student contest with an idea for five areas on top of the bridge called “mile markers.” Each would have different concepts and sponsors, including one about hydroelectricity at a point where two major currents meet.

“I learned the significance of lighthouses in the Keys and all my panels would light up and create luminance at night,” she said.

“Anna Drescher’s concept of lighting and the plazas also was very exciting,” Spinrad said.

While some county commissioners criticized most of the designs for the impracticality, county senior director of engineering Kevin White said the project was worth the investment.

“This will generate way more than $5,000 worth of interest, publicity and start-up juice,” he said. “If people see creative ways to use the bridge, it might attract private money or tourism money.”

Spinrad would have loved to have held a major design contest for big time architectural firms. “But we would have needed a $100,000 pot for prize money,” he said. “But we couldn’t afford it. So we did the graduate students. First prize is $300, second is a little basket and third is a smaller basket.”

For the past three months, Friends of Old Seven has set up a booth from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week at the north end of the bridge to garner support. They take donations for the bridge and for bridge souvenirs, as well as soliciting people to sign a petition to save the bridge.

Sergio Blengini and Margherita Bruno of Italy jogged and walked the length of the bridge’s main section, passing Dille as he sat in his chair. They said they learned about the bridge on Lonely Planet. The bridge attracts international travels from all over the world, according to data collected by Friends of Old Seven.

But many people miss the entrance to the old Seven Mile Bridge, which is poorly marked on the right side of U.S. 1 just before the new Seven Mile Bridge. Several of the architecture students said they missed the entrance and had to drive the 14 miles roundtrip on the new Seven Mile Bridge.

Brad White, the “bridge effort manager” for Friends of Old Seven, said he sees many people make illegal and dangerous U-turns upon missing the entrance. “One time I saw a truck towing a big boat stop traffic and then back up,” he said. “That was scary, but I guess they really wanted to see the old bridge.”

Spinrad said his group also has been working on a practical design of their own that will make the old Seven Mile Bridge a world-class tourist attraction. It includes building plaza type spaces on the bridge for events such as art festivals or farmer’s markets and building a fixed rail for “Henry the Trolley,” which stopped running in 2008 when the state closed the bridge to all vehicle traffic. Private vehicle traffic was banned in 2002.

“The bridge is worth preserving,” Sprinrad said. “And I don’t think it will take a super human effort if we can get the political establishment behind it.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Henry Flagler’s Seven Mile Bridge by Linda Schilling Mitchell

HENRY FLAGLER’S SEVEN MILE BRIDGE
Past, Present, Future

“What will be her demise, this old salty queen with cracked skin, rusty bones and coconut pavement?
Will she fade away in the crimson sunset or one mystic sunrise, fragment by fragment carried out to the deep?
I think not!”
by Deborah C. Linker

By Linda Schilling Mitchell

If you are a long time reader of the Pineapple Post Newspaper and had occasions to read my articles, then you are probably aware that I have a fascination for all things Flagler. Some of my past articles have been about Henry Morrison Flagler’s life, his connection with St. Augustine, The Ponce de Leon Hotel, Alcazar Hotel and the establishment of his famous Florida East Coast Railroad. Additional articles have been about his railroad coming through our area, establishing Train Depots and bringing life and settlers to the Treasure Coast. Then articles on his luxury hotels and magnificent Whitehall home in Palm Beach. In reflection, it’s no wonder that Flagler is considered to be the most important man in Florida’s history.

But his influence on Florida along with his famous railroad didn’t stop in Palm Beach as Flagler had once planned. If you are familiar with the history of our area, you know that in 1894/95 there was a devastating freeze, wiping out the local pineapple and citrus industry, crushing the local economy. As a result, it was brought to Flagler’s attention that the area just 60 miles south of Palm Beach was unharmed by the freeze. This of course, piqued Flagler’s interest. He was also encouraged to consider extending his railroad further south by an acquaintance of his named Julia Tuttle, who operated a Trading Post on the Miami River. Wanting and needing the railroad, she and other landowners offered him land for his railroad tracks. Envisioning the practicality and profitability of this, Flagler accepted the challenge to extend his railroad further south, encouraging fruit farming and settlements along the way, complete with schools, churches and hospitals. By 1896, the Florida East Coast Railroad had reached Biscayne Bay and Flagler became known as the “Father of Miami”.

Now noting the topography of our state, we would logically think that Miami would be the end of the line for the FEC right? Plus Henry was well into his “golden years” by this time and should be ready to relax and enjoy life at Whitehall! Well not so – at least in Flagler’s unconventional mind. In 1904, at the age of 74, Flagler determined that the railroad should continue another 128 mile further south to Key West. Amazingly, at that time, Key West was the most populated city in Florida with over 10,000 residents, and Flagler envisioned it as a superb and obvious site for a deep port in close proximity to Cuba and the new Panama Canal.

Critics scoffed and labeled it “Flagler’s Folly”. Engineers were aghast and his business partners wondered if the old gentleman had grown quite daft. But the determined Flagler, using his own money, became the driving force to accomplish the Key West Extension, and Florida’s remote tropical island paradise would never be the same.

It took research, surveys and extensive planning to determine a feasible route. Once assured that it was possible, construction started in earnest. The race to build a railroad across the Keys was on, hopping from one island to the next with tracks laid to Knight’s Key as the first leg. This would expedite supplies to the ongoing work sites. Devising ingenious methods of building across the Everglades, Flagler’s engineers were soon bridging the narrow gaps across the shallow waters of the upper and middle Keys, building causeways and viaducts of reinforced concrete. This concrete was made with special cement brought over from Germany, as no American concrete at that time was able to harden under salt water. Sand from Central Florida was used, fresh water from the Everglades and rocks from as far away as New York. The concrete was used to form the platforms on which the piers were built.

One can only imagine the workforce that would be needed for this monumental task. Labor was a constant problem. Crews toiled 14 hours a day, six days a week for $1.50 a day, which included food, lodging and medical care. But oppressive heat wrapped in a thick blanket of humidity, unrelenting mosquitoes, four hurricanes (1906, 1908, 1909, 1910) and the lack of fresh water constantly haunted the project.

It is said that a total of 40,000 men, but never over 5,000 at any one time, were employed. What appeared to be a good job opportunity in the ads, soon had workers retreating home to escape the atrocious conditions. What an undertaking in the early 1900s!

But Flagler and his workers pressed on. In 1908, work commenced on a major hurdle known as the Seven Mile Bridge. From Marathon to Little Duck Key, 546 concrete piers would be needed to bridge the expanse, the longest stretch of open water on the route.

Earlier this month, husband Jim and I vacationed in the Keys and visited Pigeon Key which is located about midway across the Seven Mile Bridge. After a brief boat ride across the crystal, aquamarine water from Knight’s Key, we stepped foot on the tiny five acre coral island that served as a base camp for Flagler’s construction crews. As many as 400 workers would be housed on Pigeon Key during the construction, which went on for almost four years.

Our experience was highlighted by our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide named Riet Steinmetz. Sitting under the welcomed shade of a large sea grape tree, Riet briefed us on Flagler’s life and the history of the Overseas Railroad. An unhurried tour of several original structures on the island allowed us to sense, in a small way, what life must have been for those brave and hearty workers. A special added walkway allows access up onto the actual 2.2 mile section of the Seven Mile Bridge from Knight’s Key to the camp. The view is breathtaking. A wide assortment of marine life can be viewed through the teal, translucent water. For those so inclined (we, however, were not among those) you can walk the bridge back to Knight’s Key.

By 1911, all of the final 50 miles of track were completed except for one critical span, the one over the trestle that led to Knight’s Key dock extending out in the ocean, where people would catch a steamer to Key West or anywhere in the Caribbean. Finally on January 21, 1912, FEC engineers installed the final steel plate girder (span 36 of the Knight’s Key bridge) permanently in place. From then on the place to catch a steamer to the Caribbean was at the new terminal in Key West. That afternoon, FEC Engine #201 left Knight’s Key for an inspection run to Key West.

The first FEC train arrived in Key West at 10:30 a.m. on January 22nd with Flagler, now 82, and his wife Mary Lily aboard their luxury Pullman car. How exciting it must have been for Flagler to seemingly float across the vast sea aboard the train that had been his dream. Parties, parades and banquets followed the next day to celebrate the official opening of Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. The building of the Overseas Railroad or Key West Extension, was the greatest single railroad engineering and construction feat in United States and possibly world history. The only near comparison would be the Panama Canal. Travelers referred to it as riding on a cloud, but were also warned to keep their hands and heads inside the cars while crossing the Bahia Honda Bridge. The Keys were, with the completion of the railroad, a completely different world.

Henry Morrison Flagler, who lived to see his dream fulfilled, died quietly in his home in Palm Beach just sixteen months later on May 20, 1913, at the age of 83.

But the Key West Extension was never the financial success Flagler had envisioned, and in 1935 the railroad did battle with Mother Nature one last time. The September 2nd hurricane sounded the death toll for the line. Damage was extensive in the Upper and Middle Key and hundreds of lives were lost. A Category 5 with wind speeds of 200 mph and a 17-foot tidal wave destroyed miles of track and washed out several of the long fills. Although the bridges had suffered only minor damage and could have been repaired for a relatively minimal amount of money, 1935 was deep in the throes of the Great Depression, and the FEC’s managers decided to abandon the route.

By 1936 with the route to the lower Keys cut off, the Key West City Council and Key West Chamber of Commerce pushed for the rebuilding of a thoroughfare from Miami to Key West using the abandoned railroad route for a highway. The railroad’s right-of-way was sold to the State of Florida for just $640,000. Work was started to convert the railway into a highway for automobiles. The old tracks were taken up and ingeniously used as the side railings of the road. The project went quickly and was completed in 1938. This new Overseas Highway marked the beginning of an incredible adventure for motorist who could now travel miles of roadway and cross 42 bridges from Miami to the southernmost point in Key West. The Keys were alive once more!

Eventually, in order to accommodate the increase of traffic to the lower Keys, 37 new bridges with wider spans were constructed from 1978 – 1982, including the well-known Seven Mile Bridge. Instead of the old swing span, a new 65 foot high arc near the center of the bridge allowed for taller boat clearance.

The majority of the original sections of Flagler’s bridge are still in existence and several are used as fishing piers. The old Seven Mile Bridge, Bahia Honda Bridge and Long Key Bridge were added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 3, 1979. Pigeon Key was added to the list in 1993.

Now at this point, it sounds like everything is well and good for Flagler’s old Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key, being recognized as historic sites and enjoyed by thousands of visitors each and every year. But not so. Just as back in 1935, Flagler’s Seven Mile Bridge is facing the threat of a devastating blow – only this time we know it’s coming and can prepare.

Here’s why: Not long ago, The FDOT determined that the bridge was not structurally sound and in due course will be closed to foot traffic. The ferry service out to Pigeon Key is on the chopping block too. This is an inconceivably tragic decision for the island and the 2.2 mile section of bridge that connects it to the main thoroughfare. Pigeon Key, a one of a kind historic treasure with its museum and its connecting bridge which serves as a jogging, walking and bicycle path, as well as a premium location to watch spectacular sunsets or the abundant seal life below, will be lost not only for us, but for generations to come. Can this be allowed to happen? I think not, as do a number of other focused and determined people – The Friends of Old Seven!

The Friends of Old Seven, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is dedicated to their goal: Restore, Maintain, Enhance and Save the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The FDOT has recently stated they will fund 50% of the construction fee if the matching funds are raised and provisions are made to provide maintenance for the next 15 years. At that time, the situation would be readdressed. The FO7 is determined to work with state, county, city, private donors, public funding and all entities to save this bridge. This, of course, takes money and lots of it! But here’s how we can help not only save the bridge, but be an important part of history itself!!

First, go to www.friendsofoldseven.org and sign the FO7 petition.

Second, while on the site, click on the DONATE tab. Contributions can be made by credit card or you can send in a check or money order. Contributions are tax deductable.

Third, click on the SHOP tab and choose among the many items they have for sale. FO7 T-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, tote bags, video and books. Buy them for yourself, family and friends. They make wonderful gifts.

Remember, people didn’t believe Flagler could build the bridge, but he did. Some might think we can’t save the bridge, but we can! Failure was not in his vocabulary, nor should it be in ours.
So make plans to visit Pigeon Key as soon as possible. Meet the people involved with the Pigeon Key Foundation and the Friends of Old Seven. Go to their websites and get involved. Help save Henry Flagler’s dream and his contribution to not only residents of our state, but to everyone, everywhere.

Together, we can and will SAVE OLD SEVEN!

Linda Schilling Mitchell is the author of “Dear Miss Schneider, Please Excuse Walter…”.
For more details email: lmitchell4261@yahoo.com

(Ms. Mitchell writes for the Pineapple Post which serves Jensen Beach and the Treasure Coast, Florida).

Friday, June 29, 2012

Imagine07 Mid-Term Presentation

On July 28, 2012, a contingent of representatives from Friends of Old Seven, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), architects, planners, engineers and private sector representatives joined distinguished FIU faculty for the mid-term presentation of the Imagine F07 – the 2012 Summer Semester Graduate Design Studio, at the impressive Miami Beach Urban Studio in South Beach.  The students, under the supervision of of professors Claudia Busch and Roberto Rovira, presented their visionary concepts for the Old Seven Mile Bridge restoration for review and critique.

Initially, students drew words from a hat, then used these “guidebooks” to create their concepts and designs.    The guidebooks were concepts such as weather, sounds, tides, historical culture, people, fauna, sun, visibility, politics, economics, topography, etc.  Each student, or group of students, presented their visions and accepted analysis and feedback to further their designs for their final presentations to be held in early August in Marathon, Fl.  These visionary designs to be presented to the community will offer creative concepts and designs from which, perhaps, realistic design concepts can flow.  Kudos to these amazingly creative students for their hard work and Friends of Old Seven looks forward to the final presentation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

State willing to give $9M for bridge renovations – but then force county to take span

By RYAN McCARTHY
Keynoter – June 23, 2012

The state Department of Transportation is dangling an enticing carrot in front of Monroe County, the city of Marathon and other parties interested in preserving the historic old Seven Mile Bridge leading to Pigeon Key.

Several local officials told the Keynoter that DOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego in recent weeks verbally committed 50 percent of the cost (up to $9 million) to refurbish the bridge, which is closed to auto traffic due to structural problems. Pego did not respond to a call or e-mail requesting comment.

The catch: The state agency wants someone else to take ownership of the bridge. It won’t spend the money if that doesn’t happen, County Commissioner George Neugent said.

“Somebody’s going to have to take over the bridge after it’s done. There’s a cost associated with maintenance and depreciation,” he said.

Neugent and County Administrator Roman Gastesi said the cost is estimated at a few hundred thousand dollars per year. But Gastesi said it might make sense to take it on because the county owns Pigeon Key and the bridge is the only access to it by land.

“If the bridge closes down and the ferry service closes down and they can’t survive, they might go out of business. If they do, then Pigeon Key is ours and we have to maintain it,” Gastesi said.

DOT closed the bridge to auto traffic in December 2007, citing safety concerns. The iconic 2.2-mile span was closed to fishing a year later and is in danger of closing even to pedestrian and bicycle traffic in the future. DOT has funded a $250,000-per-year ferry service since 2007 to bring visitors to Pigeon Key. But it agreed to fund only half that amount this year, forcing Monroe, the city of Marathon and Pigeon Key Foundation to come up with the rest.

Wednesday, the County Commission on Wednesday gave final approval to its $87,500 portion of that cost, extending the service through 2013. But it wasn’t keen on using taxpayer money to do so in the future. “They’re not too warm and fuzzy about it,” Gastesi said.

County Mayor David Rice isn’t averse to taking ownership of the bridge but says he’d consider it only if DOT pays the entire amount to refurbish it.

“DOT’s been trying to give that bridge away for years,” he said. “The option of going in and spending $10 million of taxpayer money and then consider taking over the maintenance of it is a pretty heavy burden on our taxpayers.”

Bernard Spinrad, president of the local Friends of Old Seven, said he’s working on applying for a grant for the local portion through the National Scenic Byway program. There was $70 million available through it last year, he said.

Spinrad has also attempted to seek bricks-and-mortar grant money through the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. He sits on the District III (Middle Keys) advisory committee to the TDC.

“We’re being precluded from doing that because bridges can’t be recipients for bricks-and-mortar grants,” he said. “TDC’s very rigid constraints say bridges don’t qualify for those funds.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bridge Head Project

On April 27, 2012, Friends of Old Seven initiated a project placing a person at the head of the Old Seven Mile Bridge during daylight hours. This Bridge Head Project served purposes of collecting bridge user statistics, generate petitions and collect donations. Although the project was delayed because of permitting issues, and missed the high tourist season, it was manned from 8 AM – 3 PM for the first 15 days, and until 8 pm from then on. The first month had six rain-out days. However, during that period, close to 900 Friends of Old Seven memberships were obtained and statistics regarding numbers of visitors to the bridge and where they are from and who are willing to support the mission of Friends of Old Seven were gathered. The project is permitted through July 31, 2012 and will be evaluated at that time to determine if extending the project would be worthwhile.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Saving the Friendship TrailBridge – Tampa, Fl

By MIKE SALINERO | The Tampa Tribune
Published: April 13, 2012

With the clock running on a 30-day reprieve given the Friendship TrailBridge, 20 supporters gathered Thursday evening to discuss a financial, marketing and political strategy to save the bridge.

The committee, which included marketing and real estate professionals, architects and lawyers, talked about what it could reasonably accomplish by the Hillsborough County Commission meeting May 2. That’s when committee members are to present business and engineering options they hope will persuade commissioners to further delay awarding a contract to demolish the 56-year-old bridge.

The meeting’s leaders, Kenneth Cowart and Kevin Thurman, said they have attracted hundreds of supporters since April 4, when Hillsborough commissioners gave them a month to present evidence about why the bridge should not be demolished.

“No one is asking why it should be saved — everyone wants to save it,” Cowart said. “We’re focusing on how you save the bridge.”

Commissioners want evidence that restoring the bridge will cost less than the $15 million to $40 million estimated by the county. Cowart said there is no way the committee can develop an engineering report in the remaining 19 days that would be “unassailable” to county staff.

Instead, the group will try to cast doubt about earlier engineering studies paid for by the county that concluded fixing the bridge would cost more than it’s worth. Cowart said the goal is to persuade commissioners to give them more time to raise money and conduct their own engineering study.

On Wednesday, two engineers examined the bridge from a boat with two committee members, Cowart and Paul Willies.

Cowart, who is an architect, said the engineer estimated 90 percent of the bridge is intact and safe. The 10 percent that needs to be repaired is mainly in the girders that support the bridge decking.

“We don’t want the county to invest $5 million in tearing out 90 percent of the bridge when 10 percent is bad,” Cowart said.

Just as important as coming up with an engineering plan to restore the bridge is developing a fundraising plan that will cover restoration and future maintenance costs. The group hopes to use the $5 million set aside to demolish the bridge for restoration and to set up a public-private partnership to finance costs exceeding that.

Since the meeting April, Thurman and Cowart have been meeting with or setting up meetings with commissioners, they said. Several Tampa City Council members also have been approached in hopes of winning political support for saving the bridge.

The men say the group needs to convince local politicians of the bridge’s potential as a unique cultural attraction that stretches 2.6 miles over Tampa Bay, joining Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Thurman said cities ranging from Chicago to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., have converted or are converting old bridges into pedestrian walkways.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Students Help to Save Old Seven

The student council at Stanley Switlik school in Marathon, Fl issued a challenge to third through fifth grade students: write an expository essay on the following topic:

“Think about the importance and the history of the Old Seven Mile Bridge to the citizens of our community and our state. Now explain why it is important to save the Old Seven Mile Bridge for our community and future generations.”

In conjunction with the essay contest, a drawing contest offered the opportunity for students to draw what a restored version of the Old Seven Mile Bridge could include.

Pictured, first row (l-r) are: Dyris Companioni, Kylie Melton and Vanessa Martinez; second row (l-r): Beth Pinkus, Lianys Perez, Miranda Turner, Holly Frederick and Deb Smith; back row, (l-r): Pigeon Key Executive Director Kelly McKinnon, Annabelle Marcey, Stanley Switlik Elementary Principal Lesley Salinero and Mike Puto of the Friends of Old 7.

First and second place winners for the essay and art contests were awarded cash prizes from the Student Council made possible by donations from generous businesses in the Middle Keys community.

                                               

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the cash awards, the first and second place winners of both contests received a year’s free family membership to Pigeon Key, and all winners and honorable mention recipients received t-shirts from Friends of Old Seven. All 28 participants received a pin of the Old Seven Mile Bridge from Student Council.

Fourth grader Vanessa Martinez and fifth grader Kylie Melton were chosen as first and second place winners, respectively, in the essay contest. Mirana Turner, Lianys Perez and Holly Frederick each received honorable mention nods for their entries.

Perez took top honors in the art contest with Annabelle Marcey in a close second place. Dyris Companioni, Melton and Frederick also received honorable mention recognition in the drawing contest.

Friends of Old Seven are very proud of these students and thank them for their participation.

1st Place Essay

Save Old Seven

By Vanessa Martinez, 4th Grade

Have you ever treasured something so much it was worth saving at any cost? Here in Marathon we have such a treasure and it’s called the Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key. First, it’s part of our history here in the Florida Keys. Next, saving the bridge will help boost the economy in the Keys. Lastly, the locals and the tourists could use the bridge for recreation. That’s why it is so important to save our precious Seven Mile Bridge.

First, the Seven Mile Bridge is part of our history. Over 100 years ago there was a man named Henry Flagler who dreamed of connecting all the islands by railroad. In 1912 Flagler built railroad tracks across the most difficult stretch of Florida- the Florida Keys. The railroad was destroyed in 1935 by a hurricane. After that a highway was built in its place. I have always wanted that bridge to stay there so when I grow up as a woman, my kids could know the history about Henry Flagler and the Seven Mile Bridge too. It will be even more interesting if that bridge stayed there for another 100 years or more hopefully.

Next, saving the bridge will help boost the economy in the Florida Keys. For example, we can sell ice cream or water so when people get tired of running or jogging on the Seven Mile Bridge, they can have a 5 minute break to eat or drink. Having a park in front of the entrance of the bridge would make it more outstanding, s hat the adults scan relax and the kids can have fun. If a park was put in front of the Seven Mile Bridge I bet more people of other countries would come see the bridge. Maybe having some benches at the bridge would make it more attractive. Plus where do people sit when they get exhausted? How could I forget, I know another way we can boost the economy, we can sell fruit and water so people can balance their weight. As I have said, more people come if we just add objects.

Last, the locals and the tourists can use the bridge for recreation. If we saved the Seven Mile Bridge, tons of people will exercise on it. For example, whenever I want to go jog somewhere, I ask my parents to go to the Seven Mile Bridge and they take me there. I can do jumping jacks and I can run on that Seven Mile Bridge, but if it was gone, where else would I go? How can I forget, don’t you like watching sunsets? Well that is a perfect place to see one. Don’t you sometimes feel like you want to go somewhere relaxing and a see a view as pretty as a rose? Well, the Seven Mile Bridge is my place to relax. Do you like fishing? Well, I do and the Seven Mile Bridge is a perfect place to fish. Once when I was fishing on the bridge, I caught a fish 7 inches long! These are all my ideas why locals and tourists use the bridge for recreation.

After all is said and done, I want to stay with my treasure, the Seven Mile Bridge. First it would be a great to learn about its history. Next if we save the Seven Mile Bridge we can boost the economy in the keys. Last, we could all use the Seven Mile Bridge for recreation. I hope you agree if you saves the Seven Mile Bridge, it would make my heart happy and everybody’s else’s too.

2nd Place Essay

Why We Must Save the Old Seven Mile Bridge

By Kylie Melton, 5th Grade

When my grandmother and I walk on the Old Seven Mile Bridge, she tells me how Henry Flagler wanted to connect our beautiful islands together by a railroad. People told him he couldn’t do it, but he was determined to try and he did it!

My grandmother tells me about the thousands of men that he hired to build the railroad. A lot of men gave their lives while building the railroad. It was hard work and dangerous, but they were still doing their best to build the railroad.

Marathon even got its name from one of the workers. Because it was taking so long to build the railroad, one of the men said, “This is becoming a regular marathon”.

After the railroad was built a terrible hurricane came along and tore it down. Later, our roads were built over top of the old railroad rails. My grandmother shows me the part of the old railroad that is now our bridge railings. They are rusty and old and when I touch them, I imagine the train there like it was before.

We meet people from all over the world who come to walk and see our famous Seven Mile Bridge. They like to take pictures of our beautiful waters and sunsets. They think it’s neat to see the turtles and the stingrays.

Walking on the bridge with my grandmother is so relaxing and fun. When we go to Pigeon Key, she tells me about all the buildings and the railroad history on this neat little island. I would be very sad if I didn’t have the Old Seven Mile Bridge because someday, I would like to walk with my children and grandchildren and tell them about the wonderful history, like my grandmother told me.

If I should win a prize, I would like it to be used to help to repair our Old Seven Mile Bridge.

Honorable Mention Essays

Save Old Seven

By Miranda Turner

4th grade Switlik

Do you know why we should save Old Seven? Well here are some explanations. First, it is a wonderful place to watch the golden sunset over the horizon. Next, it has many details of interesting background. Last, it is an amazing tourist attraction. Be smart, save Old Seven, it’s a wonderful piece of art!

First, it is a magnificent place to sit, relax and watch the sun set over the sparkling water. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the lovely scenery of the bright sunset beyond the Old Seven Mile Bridge. You can look all over the world but the only worthwhile sunset is at the Old Seven Mile Bridge. Think from your heart, don’t take Old Seven apart!

Next, it has a long line of historical background. For example, it took about 800 hardworking, determined men to build Old Seven. Also the men built from one end to the other and met in the middle. I hope you understand that Old Seven is important to us. Save Old Seven!

Last, it is a wonderful tourist attraction. For example, tourists in Florida enjoy learning about the Old Seven Mile Bridge. I even went to Pigeon Key and learned about the miraculous railroad that was once there. Now you know and understand why I want to take action and save Old Seven!

In conclusion, I want to save Old Seven because you can watch the fascinating bright gold sunset over the bridge. Next, it has lots of historical background. Last, it attracts the tourists from Florida who learn about Old Seven. I hope you agree that we should save Old Seven!

Save Old Seven

By Lianys Perez

4th grade Switlik

Help! Help me save Old Seven. Why should we save Old Seven? To begin with, Old Seven has many beautiful characteristics. On the other hand, we should save Old Seven because it signifies a lot of history. More important, tourists enjoy coming to Marathon to visit Old Seven. When I have a dream, I don’t give up and I am not giving up until we save our lovely Old Seven.

Do you think Old Seven is unique? I do! For starters, we should save Old Seven because from it you can see a variety of sea life. For example, there are lots of mackerel, grouper, and marlin. Also, you can see two of my favorite animals, manatees and dolphins. My favorite is going to Old Seven and glancing at the clear waters full of sea life. To show you what I mean, I like going to our beloved bridge at evening and feel the cool breeze there.

With no doubt, my most preferred thing is Old Seven’s hot and humid climate. Heavy rains fall from April to November, however mostly sunny skies mean it’s time to go snorkeling at Old Seven. Without a doubt, this bridge will always be an enjoyable place with mysterious details!

I did not forget to talk about Old Seven’s history. Old seven has lots of history. Who built Old Seven? In fact, there were sometimes as many as 3.000 workmen working in very hot weather. The workers were troubled with mosquitoes, snakes and hurricane force winds. What was Old Seven used for? This bridge used to be a railroad and Mr. Henry Morrison Flagler use to travel on it. Mr. Henry Flagler was the person who came up with the brilliant idea of building a railroad. Pigeon Key served numerous purposes. For example it used to be housing for the workers that built Old Seven. This bridge certainly will always have lots of history to explore and discover!

This awesome place not only attracts its residents, it attracts tourists who are fascinated because of its detailed construction. When tourists come down to Marathon, the first adventure they take is going fishing. Of course I would do the same. Tourists like to come down here and that makes me as happy as a lark because that brings money to our community. How you might ask? Tourists like to visit Pigeon Key, they donate to this foundation and that’s what brings money to our community. I have to admit our wonderful orange, reddish and yellow sunsets make you stare at it the whole evening. I wonder what amazing pictures tourists take home. I am extremely sure that they take the beauty of our beloved and incredible Marathon!

I am very delighted that I live in Marathon because this way I can enjoy the fullness of this bridge, over coated in the rays of the sun in the evenings. I can appreciate all the beauty of the creation from the bridge. All of the history of Old Seven will always be with me because I am aware of all the effort it took to construct this beautiful bridge. I am sure that tourists will always cherish Old Seven in their hearts. I urge you that if haven’t had the opportunity to visit Marathon, please stop and visit us and see why I advocate for saving Old Seven!

Preserving Local History

By Holly Frederick

4th grade Switlik

Everybody has something in their city that they care about or want to keep for as long as they can. I would like to keep our Old Seven Mile Bridge. I would like to preserve the Old Seven Mile Bridge because it’s a piece of Florida Keys history. I would also like to preserve the Old Seven Mile Bridge because it attracts tourists. Lastly, it’s a great place to watch the sunset and take pictures of sea life and our water. Saving the Old Seven Mile Bridge is important so let’s all get together to save it.

As far as I am concerned, the Old Seven Mile Bridge is the oldest piece of history we have in Marathon. It is 100 years old this year. It was finished in the year of 1912 which is a very long time ago. I want to be sure to tell you that the Old Seven Mile Bridge is one of the first roads to get from Key West to Marathon or from Marathon to Key West. The old Seven Mile Bridge is an old piece of the Florida Keys.

Snap! Snap! That’s the sound of tourists at the Old Seven Mile Bridge taking pictures. One time a movie was filmed on the bridge. It was called True Lies and they blew up a piece of the bridge. Tourists are a big part of the Old Seven Mile Bridge and Florida Keys history. Tourists from all around the world come to Marathon and most go on our Old Seven Mile Bridge. Our Old Seven Mile Bridge and tourists are what makes the Florida Keys a great place to live.

Many people just come to the Florida Keys to see the water and sea animals. Our bridge, water and sunshine are local pieces of our history. The bridge is as great place to watch the sunset and take pictures. Our Old Seven Mile Bridge is a great place to watch sea life. Often people exercise on the bridge and see the sea life, the water and the colors. The bridge is a great place to spend time, see sea life and many more things.

If we remove the bridge it will be a piece of the Florida Keys missing. The bridge is an awesome piece of history and culture. Also, the bridge is as great place for tourists to come and enjoy the bridge. Lastly the bridge is a great place to see sea life, sunsets and the water. Most people want to enjoy the beautiful water. Our bridge is piece of my life, tourist’s life and many other peoples’ daily life.