U.S. Senator Marco Rubio revisited Canal 242 with Monroe County, City of Marathon and Village of Islamorada officials on Friday to see for himself the result of a $49.2 million grant to remove Hurricane Irma marine debris from Florida Keys canals. This was his third visit to Canal 242, which was considered one of the worst hurricane debris-filled canals, once filled with multiple sunken motorhomes and household appliances.
“This sure looks a lot better than the last time I was here,” said Senator Rubio while visiting Canal 242. “To be able to come back today to see this project ahead of schedule and underbudget is amazing, but we still have a lot of work to be done. This is a great example of us all working together to get something positive done.”
Located at 6099 Overseas Highway in Marathon, Florida, Canal 242 was the first canal cleaned in a 172-canal marine debris removal grant funded by the Emergency Watershed Protection Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). After exhausting avenues for FEMA funding for marine debris removal, Monroe County led a months-long effort to obtain alternate funding from NCRS.
Florida Keys-based marine debris removal crew Adventure Environmental started the project Aug. 17, 2018. As of Feb. 8, 2019, the crew has been working at several sites simultaneously and has completed 83 percent of the project - 142 of the 172 canals. The project is expected to be completed underbudget within the 220-day mandated deadline. So far, $15.6 million of the NRCS-budgeted $45.8 million has been used for debris removal. The County has also applied for a NRCS approval for sediment removal with the unused grant funds and is awaiting a decision.
“We will continue working in an expeditious and cost-effective way and hope to get additional work approved through NRCS to ensure all of the Florida Keys canals are cleared of marine debris and sediment resulting from Hurricane Irma,” said Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.
Senator Rubio said he wanted to see why some of the canals were denied, as well as push for a deadline extension for some of the canals that are going to take longer to clean.
The Irma-impacted canals were chosen by NRCS. Unincorporated Monroe County is still undergoing marine debris removal, which is expected to be completed in March 2019. The City of Marathon and Village of Islamorada have completed its marine debris removal projects.
Last week, Big Pine Key resident Donna Hart was thankful as she watched the marine debris removal crew clean the canal in front of her Eden Pines home. “It was a relief to see it happening; a little light after the craziness of Hurricane Irma,” she said. “Watching the diver and the crew fill up two barges several times with debris piled five to eight feet tall was incredible.”
The hurricane marine debris is being taken to nearby debris management sites before being hauled to the mainland for proper disposal.
“This project has gone well from day one, thanks to the continuous support received from NRCS, hardworking and conscientious vendors who really care about the work they are doing, and community support,” said Monroe County Director of Sustainability Rhonda Haag. “We hope to continue in this manner to successfully close out the grant work and return the fabulous Florida Keys marine environment back to its pre-Irma conditions.”
The project took a lot of advocating and work by County staff, help from Marathon and Islamorada, and the support of Senator Rubio and State Representative Holly Raschein, and then U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
“The credit belongs to the folks here on the ground in Monroe County, Marathon and the surrounding cities who have done a phenomenal job of administrating these contracts,” said Senator Rubio. He added that Haag, and the dedicated staff in Monroe County and the cities “are the experts in canal cleanups.”
To read more about Hurricane Irma marine debris removal in the Florida Keys, visit monroecounty-fl.gov/irmacanalcleanup.