Islamorada council members convening for a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 7 have a loaded list of discussion items before them. Screening and selecting a village manager, deciding whether to keep Freebee’s ridesharing services and a special election related to council terms and council pay are among the topics up for debate. 

Talks will also ensue among council members over whether to reject bids on a proposed scenic overlook pavilion at Green Turtle Hammock Preserve, located at MM 81.2, bayside. Providing recreational opportunities while also housing vital natural resources, the property was deeded to the village with the reassurance amenities would be maintained for the public. Recently, the preserve underwent several improvements. More enhancements such as a kayak launch, dock and improved water access are slated for the property. 

A two-story pavilion and scenic overlook of Florida Bay is proposed on a scarified area along the waterfront where a residential home once stood. Not only would people get a glimpse of the bayside for a sunset or get a view of passing boats, but those launching kayaks and spending a portion of the day at the preserve would be able to access the pavilion’s restroom and outdoor shower.

A request for proposals issued by the village on July 12 sought bids from licensed contractors for materials and construction of the pavilion. According to the village’s consulting engineer CPH Inc., building a 2,400-square-foot pavilion with amenities would cost roughly $1 million. By Aug. 15, the village received three proposals. An evaluation committee composed of the chief building official, public works director and environmental resources manager evaluated proposals and found the highest ranked proposal would come at a cost that’s 300% more than the standard per-square-foot costs for new construction. 

The evaluation committee agreed to seek the village council’s direction on whether to reject all bids, rebid the project under the current plans or reduce the project scope. The village budgeted $1.5 million for improvements to the basin and pavilion construction. Islamorada received two grants totaling around $893,000 to fund improvements at the preserve. 

“Direction to move forward with the pavilion project at a cost within the engineering budget estimate would be approximately $800,000 in non-granted funded costs to the village,” reads a staff memo. Non-grant funds would come from the parks and recreation department’s impact fees, which has roughly $1.2 million. 

The dais will also consider approval of a Florida Department of Transportation grant totaling around $276,000 for expanded ride sharing services by Freebee. The Miami-based company entered the village in November 2018, when the council approved a six-month trial for a service providing local transportation via electric vehicles. Rides are free of charge to local and visitors requesting rides through the Freebee app.  

A trial period brought rave reviews over a service, which aimed to take cars off a congested U.S. 1 in Islamorada all while getting riders who may have had a few drinks safely home. Following the trial, the dais approved annual agreements with Freebee. Through time, service expanded from Tavernier to Lower Matecumebe. Freebee also transitioned from golf carts to vans and Teslas. 

In May 2022, the council directed staff to apply for a Florida Department of Transportation grant to cover costs associated with Freebee’s service expansion. The village proposed service would run seven days a week from 7 a.m. to midnight. FDOT informed the village that its application for funding for the 2023-24 fiscal year was approved.

In total, annual costs for three Freebee vehicles operating seven days a week is around $553,000. With a state grant providing 50% of the funding, the village would need to foot $276,665. Per a staff memo, costs incurred by the village would decrease by $65,839 from the current annual amount under the current contract. The current Freebee services are provided at a cost of $342,504.00 annually paid in 12 payments of $28,542.

A survey circulating in the village by Islamorada Social seeks input from residents whether there are better ways to provide the service. Eliminating Freebee from the village isn’t the goal, according to an introduction into the survey. 

Freebee said its service transported more than 130,000 locals and visitors since coming to the village in late 2018. Of the riders, 63% are locals and 37% are tourists. Those using Freebee have increased throughout the years, from 21,284 in 2020 to 50,262 in 2023. 

Council members will also consider approval of a resolution to approve contractor services for the village’s wastewater system resulting from a request for qualifications. Last May, the wastewater department advised the village manager of the need to update the existing library of professional contractor services for the system for maintenance and repair purposes. The RFQ was issued in June with a July 31 deadline. According to a staff memo, the village received one proposal from Page Excavating. 

To evaluate the proposal, the village manager appointed an RFQ Evaluation Committee consisting of Andrew Engelmeyer, public works and wastewater director; Joaquin Miranda, wastewater operations manager; and Kristiana

Patience, public works coordinator. On Aug. 4, the committee members met to discuss the single proposal and agreed that it was responsive to the bid document. The committee agreed to recommend to the council that the Village enter into a non-exclusive continuing services agreement with Page. 

The village’s tentative fiscal year 2023-2024 budget for the wastewater enterprise fund includes $510,000 for repairs and maintenance, $270,000.00 for operating supplies and $350,000 for infrastructure capital projects. Work authorizations under the CSA with Page will be presented to the council for approval when projects and cost estimates are determined.

The dais will also take up a resolution that opposes consolidating the courts of Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. 


Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.