BRIDGE JUMP STUNT GETS GREEN LIGHT FROM MARATHON CITY COUNCIL

Concerns about the structural integrity of the south side of the Boot Key Bridge dominated a discussion about the viability of a stunt jump over the bridge’s open span. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

If his team can satisfy a lengthy but reasonable to-do list, renowned stuntman Travis Pastrana will make a return to Marathon next month.

At its regular meeting on June 14, the Marathon City Council gave a conditional approval for an event permit that would send Pastrana over the open span of the Boot Key Harbor Bridge in a heavily customized car while a helicopter hovers in the gap below.

The discussion item was brought forward by Mayor John Bartus after a request by Hoonigan Industries to perform the stunt in January was denied by city staff, citing liability concerns and doubts about the condition of the bridge.

With a presentation to the council highlighting the Hoonigan crew’s extensive experience and safety record performing similar feats, Hoonigan producer David Wells noted the stunt’s potential to provide increased worldwide visibility to the city of Marathon.

“The Gymkhana series is the most viewed motorsport film on the internet,” said Wells. “The last film recently crossed 50 million views since being released in 2020. … The true hero is the location and its community. … The film is a postcard of the city, one that will be seen by millions.”

Wells also offered a $30,000 donation from production company People First Media to be used by the city for youth programs.

While city attorney Steve Williams said he personally would like to see the unique stunt performed, questions about Marathon’s ability to protect itself from risk precluded him from formally recommending the shoot. One of Williams’ main concerns was the possibility of rendering vessels with deeper drafts unable to leave Boot Key Harbor if debris from a crumbling bridge were to block the harbor’s west entrance.

“The short version is, we asked (our insurance company) in anticipation of this meeting, ‘What would we need to ask these folks for a policy should they accidentally hit the bridge or should something go wrong?’” said Williams. “Our insurance company wouldn’t even give us a number. Without proper insurance, my answer is 100% no, the city should not do this.”

Public Works and Engineering Director Carlos Solis echoed Williams’ sentiments, adding that the last FDOT inspection of the bridge in 2008 revealed 100% loss in some columns. 

“That was 14 years ago, so we have no idea what’s out there now,” said Solis. “My biggest concern, even if something doesn’t happen now, is if you have an accident, is that going to progress the decay of that bridge? And then we get stuck with that bill because it’s a year and a half down the road and everybody’s long gone.”

Contending that the bridge’s structural members responsible for absorbing the impact of the car’s landing are in good condition and that the stress of the 3,000-pound car is a tiny fraction of what the bridge was built to handle, team engineer Eric Helt said the jump was highly unlikely to cause any significant damage.

“The dead load of the bridge itself, in comparison to the car, it’s peanuts,” he said. “We’re putting on 3,000 pounds, so you’re talking 1% of the load. If that bridge is standing there now, us adding 1% isn’t going to make or break this thing.”

Though Hoonigan crew members said they expected full partnership with FWC, Marathon Fire Rescue, the Monroe County Sheriff and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure safety throughout the process, several organizations indicated to the council and Keys Weekly that they have yet to be contacted about the stunt.

“I certainly would like to see this happen, and I think the way we do this is to try to make sure that our collective conditions are met,” said Bartus. “The people that are putting this thing on do have an incredibly good reputation. … You’re hearing it from a lot of people who are a part of this business.”

“I grew up with Evil Knievel and love to watch the jumps. But I think we would be fools not to listen to our city attorney and our city professional engineer,” said councilman Dan Zieg.

With Zieg and councilman Luis Gonzalez voting against the stunt, the council granted conditional approval for the jump, scheduled for July 11. In order to receive a green light, the production company must name the city on its $10 million insurance indemnity policy and provide the city with a written operational plan. 

The production company must also coordinate with, have commitments from, and pay necessary expenses for the services of personnel from Marathon Fire Rescue, FWC, the Coast Guard and MCSO. It must enter into a written contract with Marathon Seawalls and Docks to stand by should debris fall into the channel after the jump. Before the stunt, the company will also pay for a five-ton load test on the landing side of the bridge to ensure its ability to absorb the car’s landing.

IN OTHER NEWS:

  • The council unanimously approved a $30,000 donation to Keys AHEC in support of medical and dental care for vulnerable Keys youth.
  • The council directed city manager George Garrett and finance director Jennifer Johnson to enter into negotiations with Key Colony Beach officials regarding the balance of the two cities’ contributions toward fire rescue and EMS expenses. Noting that the taxable values of Marathon and KCB properties are in roughly a 4:1 ratio, but that Key Colony’s contributions toward fire and EMS expenses fall short of this same ratio, Zieg indicated that KCB administrator David Turner has been “very reasonable about knowing that Marathon has subsidized the KCB residents.”
  • Code director Ted Lozier informed the council that the city has entered into a contract with Deckard Technologies to help identify and eventually cite illegal vacation rentals within the city that are advertised online. The service should be operational by the end of June. Lozier also pointed out that the city’s new sign ordinance passed in March has passed through review at the state level and is now effective.
  • The council unanimously voted to reject a settlement sent by the state Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) regarding its February issuance of a Notice of Violation (NOV) to the city. The NOV was issued when the city issued building permits for limited units of a development known as the 39th Street “Boatworks Project” while other units in the same development were undergoing an appeal by the state. Garrett indicated that city staff will travel to Tallahassee on Monday, June 20 to resolve remaining issues with DEO surrounding the NOV. City staff will also work with DEO to work through lingering questions about the city’s new permits Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in May.
  • In the interest of decreasing permit wait times for residents, the council unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance shortening the city’s permit application review period from 30 days to five.
  • The council unanimously voted to adopt an ordinance establishing a tow-away zone along both sides of Sombrero Beach Road from the beach to Spoonbill Drive, as well as a second zone along the golf course side of Sombrero Boulevard.

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.