Zip line all but dead for Middle Keys site

rmccarthy@keynoter.comMarch 29, 2014 

The city of Marathon is all but set to step away from a $727,000 state grant aimed at funding a $1.1 million zip-line course at the privately held nonprofit Crane Point Hammock. Crane Point has fallen well behind its state Department of Economic Opportunity work schedule, creating concerns among City Council members.

BY RYAN MCCARTHY

The city of Marathon is inching closer to what seems an inevitable conclusion to step away from a $727,000 state grant aimed at helping fund a zip-line course at Crane Point Hammock.

Crane Point's 30-day window to provide the state Department of Economic Opportunity "a plan for the timely completion" of the estimated $1.1 million attraction expired on Wednesday with little response from the nonprofit.

The DEO requested information asking why there are delays "in submitting the environmental assessment and the wage decision request" within 30 days from when it sent a Feb. 24 letter to the city. A wage decision is essentially the state dictating what general contractors must pay subcontractors in federally or state-funded projects.

Jeff Smith, president of Crane Point's board, wrote a one-page letter to the city on March 11. It attributes delays to "third-party ... actions regarding the [height variance] issued by the city's planning director," George Garrett.

A group of opponents to the zip line, many Crane Point subdivision residents, have fought the project every step of the way, including suing over the height variance, which was granted for several towers more than 40 feet high. The city's building height limit is 37 feet.

"The response came at our request from Crane Point. I'm going to characterize it as a weak response and it doesn't provide any detail," Garrett said.

The City Council previously agreed it would likely step away from the grant. However, the council left a window for Crane Point to address the state's concerns prior to the grant expiring on Oct. 29, 2014.

Garrett said staff recommends that window be closed, likely at the council's April 8 regular meeting.

"The recommendation from city staff is to release the money back to the state and back away from the project," Garrett said, referring to a staff report by Community Services Coordinator Debbie London. She was out of the office this week.

The DEO is responsible for distributing the $727,000 Community Development Block Grant to the city, which agreed to procure the grant and act as a funding conduit for Crane Point.

Crane Point was supposed to have submitted its environmental assessment to the state by March 2013 and its wage decision by June 2013.

Smith said he's aware the city plans to walk away from the grant, but said that won't get in the way of plans to complete the zip-line course.

"We'll still move forward with the project," he said. "As we work to address other issues, it may indeed require some modifications to the course."

Smith added that upgrades to the historic Adderley and Crane houses on the 63-acre property were included in plans for the state grant money.

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