|By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter,
MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 24, 2012--A European design firm envisions a 300-room resort and shopping complex with an unmatched view of open water rising over the Lower Keys.
The proposed location -- atop the second deck of the old Bahia Honda Bridge -- does raise eyebrows.
"I was passing through the Keys last year when I saw this great architecture," said Anton Arkipov, founder of Legend Systems Group, a firm with offices in Belgium and Slovenia.
"We stopped at the bridge and I thought it would be a great idea to use to use it in some way." Arkipov said Friday. "Especially if was environmentally friendly."
Legend Systems, which specializes in European wind farms, submitted a model proposal to Gov. Rick Scott last October.
"We believe that [the old bridge], in its remarkable location, can be transformed by ... upgrading it as a base for a unique tourist settlement -- a long string of various huts, longhouses, bars, restaurants and numerous attractions."
"The Green Mile Bridge will consist of about 300 rooms of different sizes and budgets: Single, double, family, duplex and suites, equipped with all necessary elements and terraces. In total, up to 600 people will be able to enjoy their stay."
A series of artists' renderings depict a line of structures resembling, a space cruiser from a science-fiction movie, atop the second deck of the bridge. Large wind turbines for power would be located between the two decks.
Legend Systems suggests "a noiseless train" to carry vacationers to restaurants, bars and "two transparent swimming pools."
The governor's office forwarded the proposal to the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Recreation and Parks. "It got done quickly," Arkipov said. "I consider that a good sign."
The state agency did not reject the plan outright, but cautioned the retired railroad and highway bridge "is in poor condition," said Jessica Sims, information director of the Florida Park Service.
The old Bahia Honda Bridge, built as part of the Henry Flagler's Overseas Railroad a century ago, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered part of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
"This is the first major development proposal of this nature we have seen for a historic bridge," Sims said in an e-mail. "The feasibility of a project of this nature would depend on several factors, including structural issues, historic preservation ... and management concerns."
The section of the old bridge adjacent to Bahia Honda State Park at mile marker 36.8 is considered part of the park, said Bahia Honda manager Eric Kiefer.
"I haven't heard anything about this," Kiefer said. "Can you imagine what would happen when the first hurricane comes along?"
Arkipov said he's trying to determine how to get a better assessment of the bridge steelwork and foundation.
"The people I've talked to really don't seem to have much against it," he said. "I know from building wind farms that you have to contact every person and every possible [agency] that is somehow related to it because they can blow up the whole project."
Sims said any work done on the old Bahia Honda Bridge would undergo an extensive review and public-hearing process.
"My idea is to keep as much of the old bridge as possible," Arkipov said. "I'm hoping for a green light."
(c)2012 the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.)
Visit the Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, Fla.) at www.keysnet.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services