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The cleanup of the Keys canals after Hurricane Irma is nearly 80 percent done

Florida Keys canal filled with storm debris months after Hurricane Irma

Big Pine Key residents and county officials try to address the canals on the key filled with debris from Hurricane Irma.
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Big Pine Key residents and county officials try to address the canals on the key filled with debris from Hurricane Irma.

Monroe County’s $49 million post-Hurricane Irma canal cleanup is nearly 80 percent complete and ahead of schedule, the county said Wednesday.

Of the 172 canals that received federal approval for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 134 have been cleared of debris, which has included a motorcycle, a houseboat and a sailboat..

There are 500 canals in the Florida Keys.

The project has taken up $14.2 million, or 38 percent, of the available $45.8 million marine debris-clearing budget for unincorporated Monroe, Islamorada and Marathon, said Monroe County spokesperson Cammy ClarkMonitoring services were budgeted for $4.2 million.

“The project is totally funded with state and federal money,” said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County’s sustainability director. “Not one cent of county money has been spent on this, with the exception of staff time.”

motorcycle removed from canal 307 in upper sugar loaf-2 (1).JPG
A motorcycle is removed from canal. no. 307 on Upper Sugarloaf Key. Wood Environment

Irma struck the Keys as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 10, 2017.

Marine debris cleanup of approved canals has been completed in Islamorada and only one canal is left in Marathon.

The project, which began in August, is ahead of schedule to meet the 220-day grant deadline that ends March 21, 2019.

Hurricane marine debris is being taken to nearby “debris management sites” before being hauled to Homestead for disposal.

The project is funded with an Emergency Watershed Protection program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Monroe County is using Florida Keys Stewardship Act funds for its 25 percent match.

The federal agency approves which canals can receive the grant funding after reviewing comprehensive submissions provided by the county.

The county also has submitted 34 canals to NRCS for sediment approval and 18 of them — located in unincorporated Monroe County, Marathon and Islamorada — are currently being considered.

“We don’t know which canals will be approved for sentiment removal, if any,” Haag said.

For up-to-date information on the cleanup, including a master schedule of the work and the new list of canals approved for this project, click here.

The project is divided as follows: $35.2 million for unincorporated Monroe County, $7.5 million for Marathon and $6.5 million for Islamorada.

debris removed canal 229 on Big Piine Key-2.JPG
Debris is being removed from canal no. 229 on Big Pine Key. Wood Environment

Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental was hired to lead the cleanup. Adventure Environmental and subcontractor Arnolds Towing of Stock Island have a combined workforce of about 60 people committed to the project using four grapple trucks, five sonar boats and 15 barges specifically built for the Keys to minimize impact to the environment.

Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc. is monitoring the work.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.
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