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Conchs roar to bridge annexation

Associated Press
Published January 14, 2006

KEY WEST - The mock Conch Republic on Friday "annexed" an abandoned bridge in the Florida Keys that the federal government ruled was not U.S. territory when 15 Cubans landed there last week.

Members of the republic, established in 1982 by disgruntled Florida Keys residents as a tongue-in-cheek protest over U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, planted flags along the section of the bridge where the Cubans landed and said they hoped to use it for affordable housing.

Self-appointed Republic of Conch Secretary-General Peter Anderson said he planned to offer 50-foot sections of the structure to those who want to build environmentally friendly "bridge-shacks."

"Since the federal government decided in its infinite wisdom that the old Seven Mile Bridge is not territory of the United States, the Conch Republic is very interested," Anderson said.

Anderson - who sells Conch Republic passports in the Keys - said the group met no resistance on the bridge.

"They chose not to defend it," he said of the bridge, owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.

"With all due respect to the Conch Republic, the bridge belongs to all the people of Florida, and we're not currently in negotiations to sell it," said Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush.

Under the federal government's long-standing "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay, while those stopped at sea are returned to the island.

The government said it repatriated the Cubans who landed on Jan. 4 at the base of the historic bridge because the structure no longer connects to land.

Anderson said at least half a dozen people have already expressed interest in the property.

"It could be a model green community," he said, "with composting toilets, wind and solar power, rainwater collection, like living on a boat, really."

[Last modified January 14, 2006, 01:38:14]

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