Canal-debris crews hit some rough water trying to clean up from Irma

Contractors working to clean hurricane debris from Florida Keys canals got some early lessons.

A work barge — actually two smaller barges lashed together — proved to be too large to make it down some of the first Big Pine Key canals targeted by a $6 million debris-removal program of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Monroe County officials told Upper Keys residents at a recent meeting of the Tavernier Community Association.

“The work has not come to a standstill but there were some unexpected glitches,” County Commission Sylvia Murphy said.

“They had to take the barges apart and use some smaller equipment,” she said Tuesday. “It was nothing earth-shattering.”

Contractors DRC Environmental Services, working under DEP and Monroe County supervision, are expected to focus on the hardest-hit areas for the six four to six months. For the overall county, work could continue for more than a year.

The Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 10 filled numerous canals systems with damaged docks, downed trees, structural debris, appliances and more.

“This is not dredging. It’s something that’s never been done before,” Murphy said. “They’re going in to clean out the canals and see what’s down there on the bottom.”

“Collecting marine debris is a slower process than collecting land debris,” county information officer Cammy Clark said.

“Marine debris that is collected will be taken by barge to a temporary off-loading site,” she said. “It won’t stay at this location long before being hauled by trucks to the [Lower Keys] debris management site at the former Big Pine Key Prison site.”

The Florida Keys have “513 canals,” which refers to a single entrance to open water. A network of community canals that lead to a single entrance counts as one canal.

Officials estimate that “all [canals] were impacted to some degree.” About 247 are considered to have suffered “high” or “medium” impact.

“Based on aerial photos, there is an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of marine hurricane debris that needs to be removed from Keys’ waters at a total removal cost of $15 to $30 million,” a county report says.” The numbers could change once actual debris amounts are known.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206