Monroe County commissioners were met Wednesday with gripes about tons of debris throughout the Lower Keys and a lack of preparedness for Hurricane Irma.
The commission met in special session in Marathon to discuss the county’s housing crisis, the debris removal and possible solutions, and took the wrath from residents. One said Big Pine Key is a “cesspool of pollution” almost three months out from the Sept. 10 storm.
“I have to express my frustration,” Commissioner George Neugent told the room of about 70 people. “All five commissioners have no frickin’ authority to get anything done. We depend on staff, and [residents] have legitimate bitches about the lack of stuff we’ve accomplished in the Lower Keys.”
During the hours-long meeting, commissioners approved the county seeking a $40 million line of credit to pay for hurricane costs, like the roughly $25 million it owes to debris hauler AshBritt Inc.
A feud over debris removal erupted after the storm when the Florida Department of Transportation authorized emergency contracts for other waste-hauling firms besides AshBritt to remove trash and vegetation and reportedly paid them much higher rates than AshBritt’s deal with the county.
As a result, many of AshBritt’s subcontractors reportedly jumped ship to work in the Keys at the higher rates. Replacement trucks were hard to find because of Hurricane Harvey and other storms, the company says. Then, in October, the DOT said it was ending its emergency contracts in the Keys effective Oct. 27.
To date, stretches of U.S. 1 are still littered with debris piles. Wednesday, the commission said DOT will perform one last sweep on U.S. 1 but did not say when. The county is still responsible for county roads, while municipalities are responsible for their own.
It is now illegal to dump hurricane debris anywhere along U.S. 1 in Monroe County and anyone found doing so will be arrested on a felony charge, Sheriff Rick Ramsay said.
As a possible way to increase affordable housing, the county is going to look into building tiny homes on scattered sites throughout the Keys. They’ll put out a request for proposals in the coming months from developers who can build small homes that meet wind and flood regulations.
It’s a matter of finding the least environmentally sensitive properties to put them on, Neugent told the Keynoter.
“We’re going to be focused on acquiring these properties from willing sellers,” he said.
Neugent did not say how many will be built, but that they will be one- and two-bedroom affordable units. Commissioners also directed staff to pursue available state and federal grant opportunities for housing and infrastructure.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219