The general contractor installing the infrastructure on the largest redevelopment project in the Keys walked off the job about a month ago and has gone into bunker mode — effectively putting the multimillion-dollar operation on hold once again.
Fountain Engineering Inc., headquartered in South Miami-Dade, received a $3.5 million contract in 2012 to build utility infrastructure at the Key Largo Ocean Resort, a 22-acre oceanfront property at mile marker 94.8. The company packed up its equipment and drove off in early March without warning.
"They started moving equipment out and our security guard called us to say what was going on," said KLOR condo association board member Juan Alvarez. "We immediately began calling them, but they never returned our calls."
Attempts to reach Fountain representatives were unsuccessful. The phone number listed on its website has been disconnected. The company has not filed bankruptcy paperwork, but Alvarez said the walk-off does not appear to have to do with any disagreement between the contractor and the board.
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The issue is the latest obstacle in the former RV park's troubled history. KLOR has been in the process of redevelopment for more than 10 years. But the park's problems go back much further than that.
Since 1994, Monroe County Code Compliance Department officials began cracking down on the property's multitude of violations. At the root of the violations is that the park was never supposed to have anything but temporary mobile homes and campers on it. But through the years, permanent trailers, houses and prohibited add-ons like Florida rooms and decks became commonplace.
A severe fire in 2007 that destroyed several homes meant county officials could no longer tolerate the code violations, and a judge ordered the entire property razed in 2010.
But infighting among shareholders, several lawsuits and a board of directors recall stymied redevelopment efforts. With Fountain's exit, the project is yet again delayed.
When it is finally complete, the subdivision is expected to have up to 285 single-family houses. But for now, the large lot is a barren landscape of dusty roads, three houses and rows of street lamps.
Jim Saunders, the liaison between the KLOR board and the county, said he told board members they need to allow certain inspections to be performed so the building permits remain active while a new contractor is found.
Saunders also said that Fountain was doing underground utility work for the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District. Paul Christian, general manager of the special taxing district, said Fountain completed the main portion of its contract, which was to install lateral lines for the grinder pump program. Christian said about $3,000 to $5,000 worth of restoration work remains, which the district chose to do in-house.
Alvarez would not go into specifics about how much the KLOR board has paid Fountain.
The board has asked its bonding company to take over the project in terms of paying subcontractors. Alvarez said about 90 percent of the infrastructure is done, and the board likely has enough money, around $600,000, to pay the subcontractors to complete the work that is left.