Marine Hurricane Debris Cleanup

The cleanup of marine debris from Hurricane Irma in unincorporated Monroe County began in mid-February. 

The removal of marine debris, which is a much slower process than removing land debris, will take more than a year to complete.

Progress to Date: 

Crews have removed 742 cubic yards of marine debris from four canals between Avenues E/F, F/G, G/H, H/I and I/J. The contractor is working on removing marine debris in the canals that run between Avenues D/E of Big Pine Key. 

$6 Million Cleanup Project with DEP

Monroe County signed an agreement with DEP to assist in the marine debris removal effort of the impacted canals and nearshore waters of Monroe County. DEP hired DRC Environmental Services to do the work. DEP will oversee the $6 million operation with Monroe County, and Monroe County staff will provide local coordination.

DEP anticipates additional funding commitments of $2 million each with the City of Marathon and the Village of Islamorada.

Monroe County and the municipalities will reimburse DEP within the next 24 months. The County then will seek reimbursement from FEMA for the allowable 75 percent of the cost.

FEMA, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Monroe County’s consultant AMEC Foster Wheeler also helped with the planning efforts.

There are 513 canals throughout the Keys. It is estimated that they all were impacted to some degree: 97 high impact, 150 medium impact, 139 lower impact and 127 low impact. Of those 513 canals, 333 are in unincorporated Monroe County.

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. The numbers could change once actual debris amounts are known.

Monroe County is seeking additional funding sources to complete the marine debris cleanup.

This $6 million, first-phase operations is expected to take 4-6 months to complete. The canals and nearshore waters in this phase are being prioritized by level of impact and economic impact to the residents. The hardest hit areas will be cleaned first.

The first canal that has been cleaned is Canal #290 on Big Pine Key. It was one of the six canals that had been restored as part of the County’s canal restoration demonstration projects, using muck removal and the installation of an air curtain to keep out floating vegetation.

The debris that is collected will be taken by barge to a temporary off-loading site. It won’t stay at this location long before being hauled by trucks to the Debris Management Site at the former Big Pine Key Prison site. From there, it will be sorted and prepared for hauling to a permitted solid waste disposal facility approved by DEP on the mainland.

For this project, the debris being removed includes vegetation, hazardous waste, construction and demolition debris, propane tanks, appliances, electronic waste, docks, vehicles, seawalls and houses or portions of houses that pose a direct threat to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the County and the State of Florida.

It does include motorhomes. It does not include boats, which are being addressed through the displaced vessel removal effort being overseen by the FWC. Also, no sediment or silt will be removed under this phase because it is not reimbursable by FEMA.

The work is being done with an operational plan approved and permitted by DEP and NOAA that ensures the protection of wildlife.

Community Marine Cleanups

Monroe County also will continue to support groups that want to do community marine cleanups of areas that big equipment couldn’t reach following Hurricane Irma.

If you are planning a community marine cleanup in unincorporated Monroe County and need Monroe County public works’ support for pickup of the collected debris or disposal at a County transfer station, please contact Monroe County Solid Waste at least a week in advance of the cleanup at 305-292-4536 to schedule.

Monroe County is proud of the community’s willingness and self-help attitude to support the Keys’ recovery.