Nearly 100 years ago, Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad was the largest privately funded project in the United States.
With the centennial celebration of that project’s completion just around the corner, the island that housed hundred of workers integral to the construction of “8th Wonder of the World” is embarking on what’s surely the largest privately funded project in Monroe County.
Sea Air Land Technologies (SALT) co-owner Chuck Meier said his company had worked with a handful of boards and different leadership to help take Pigeon Key off the grid for the past 10 years.
“Everyone’s looked at the plans and realized the tremendous cost,” Meier noted, adding that though past leadership has realized the need, the funding for such large-scale projects has never been available.
“What’s significant about now is that interested parties have been able to put together private funding,” Meier commended.
Pigeon Key Executive Director Kelly McKinnon befriended Mike Carricart of Miami after the insurance company owner brought his employees to the island for a corporate retreat.
“He brought his family down last year because he loves the island, and he started giving me advice here and there,” McKinnon recounted. “We went up to Miami, and it’s just sort of snowballed from there.”
Carricart’s pledge of $50,000 is being matched by a group of his business associates, but the upgrade did not receive the green light until BB&T provided the final financing.
“This is bringing green technology to a historic landmark, so it’s the best of both worlds,” said Pigeon Key Foundation treasurer Ben Daniels. “Henry Flagler would be pleased with this decision.”
Whereas SALT’s original proposals for the island situated in the middle of the Old Seven Mile Bridge included a desalination and water production plant as well as upgraded air conditioning systems for the seven historic buildings and a wind turbine in addition to a solar array and battery backup system, all to the tune of well over $1 million, the current plan has a more manageable price tag of $200,000 for the non-profit foundation.
Pigeon Key currently pays $50,000 annually in diesel costs alone just to keep the 5-acre island operational.
Installation of a solar array not only makes more sense economically; it will also eliminate the need for a roaring generator that currently greets visitors to the island.
The proposed equipment, manufactured in Dublin, Georgia, carries with it a 25-year warranty guaranteed to meet minimum performance criteria, Meier noted.
“The critical operations are guaranteed for 10 years, so all the primary equipment is covered well past the payback period,” he continued.
More than anything, McKinnon said, Pigeon Key will finally be able to start practicing what it’s been preaching by reducing its carbon footprint and burning less diesel.