Cleaning up after Hurricane Irma throughout much of the Florida Keys continues to raise questions and concerns from residents and local officials.
Piles of debris remain along some sections of U.S. 1, although the Florida Department of Transportation — the agency charged with maintaining the state right of way — has informed Monroe County and municipal staff that it considers its collection effort finished.
Debris previously collected along the highway is being trucked out of the Keys.
“We’re trying very hard to get something started after the DOT pretty much walked away from this mess,” Islamorada Village Councilwoman Deb Gillis said Tuesday.
The Village Council scheduled a special meeting after deadline Tuesday evening to discuss a possible contract to remove the remaining debris.
“We might need to get permission from DOT, which we don’t have yet,” Gillis said. “And we’re also working to do it so we hopefully can get the cost reimbursed” through the federal or state government.
Monroe County and Marathon officials have expressed similar concern about debris piles that have accumulated on the state right of way after the DOT pickup stopped.
Contractors removing sunken boats and marine debris this week started moving the storm-damaged material into some Monroe County parks, like Harry Harris Park in Tavernier.
Community residents said they have yet to hear any timeline estimates on how long Harry Harris Park, a popular site with ball fields and a public boat ramp, will remain closed.
“I can’t get any work done because of the complaint calls I’ve been getting,” said Jerry Wilkinson, president of the Tavernier Community Association. “We’ve asked the county for more information. So far, we haven’t heard anything.”
Monroe County authorized the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of Environmental Protection to use Rowell’s Waterfront Park and Harry Harris Park for temporary storage of marine debris after a hurricane. How long operations as a “debris-management site” will continue remains uncertain.
Repairs to “major damage” along the park’s waterfront have not been scheduled due to the ongoing debris removal, county information officer Cammy Clark said Tuesday. The park “is going to be handling debris for a while,” she said.
“Due to the continuing complaints from residents,” Monroe County on Thursday asked the DOT by email to end its operation of an air-curtain incinerator to burn hurricane foliage on Cudjoe Key.
Two days earlier, a DOT executive wrote to the county, “We expect the burning operations to continue for another four weeks.”
“Residents who live in the vicinity of the incineration site have complained of smoke that has made it hard for some to breathe, as well as soot and ash accumulation on their vehicles,” Clark said in a statement. “Some say they can’t keep their windows open at times.”
An air-curtain incinerator is designed to contain most of the smoke and ash from burned vegetation. Several state regulatory agencies including the Department of Environmental Protection on Nov. 14 inspected the facility and said it meets environmental standards.
The incinerator operator “has voluntarily limited burning when winds are out of the north and could most affect residents in the vicinity,” according to the Monroe County Fire Marshal’s Office.
Burning started Oct. 26 and has incinerated about half the vegetation debris at the Blimp Road site on Cudjoe, reports say.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206