Debris cleanup on land in the Florida Keys is coming to a close following September’s Hurricane Irma, but there’s still much work to do when it comes to canals that still have trees and trailers floating in them.
Saturday marks five months since Irma made landfall in the Lower Keys and leveled entire neighborhoods. It also caused a lot of damage in Marathon and Islamorada.
Waterways on Big Pine Key and other islands have been full of trailers, palm trees and other things since. The county announced Wednesday an agreement has been signed with the state Department of Environmental Protection to start cleaning them.
County program manager Rhonda Haag told the Keynoter there are about 300 canals throughout unincorporated Monroe that were impacted by the storm and cleanup will cost more than $6 million.
“Of course they’re not all impacted the same. Some are worse than others,” she said. “We are going to start in the most heavily impacted Lower Keys areas, but we hope to get to every canal in unincorporated Monroe County, even some in Key Largo, and have applied for alternate sources of funding.”
Starting this week using sonar equipment on barges, crews with DRC Environmental Services will scan impacted canals for major debris, she said, and canals will be cleaned to a depth of 16 feet.
The debris is removed with cranes, hauled to a debris site, sorted, then trucked to a landfill, Haag said. The Big Pine Key sorting site will be at the now-closed Big Pine Key Road Prison “away from everyone,” she said.
First, major debris like houses and vehicles will be removed, then on a second sweep, smaller debris will be removed. Most boats have already been taken out of waterw by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Coast Guard.
Municipalities like Marathon and Islamorada, which also still have canals with debris in them, have to make their own agreements with DEP. Marathon City Planner George Garrett said he’s been in contact with the same DEP contractor for the county, which will do Marathon’s cleanup.
“Initially, about 37 canals were seriously impacted, but about 17 remain seriously impacted,” he said. “Mostly, instead of seagrass or something, there’s actually wood debris and chairs and RVs in those canals. We want to start at Key by the Sea.”
Key by the Sea condo complex at mile marker 50.5 oceanside in Marathon has been one of the most highly discussed in the months post-Irma. It is still full of trailers, sheds and other household items, and manatees can be seen swimming in and out of the destroyed structures.
Mary Swaney, public information officer for the village of Islamorada, said a formal agreement with the DEP has not been signed yet but there are about eight canals there that still need to be cleaned up.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219