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Posted on: August 17, 2018


NRCS Funded Marine Debris Removal Project LR-3 W

MARATHON, FL – Crew members used a long-reach excavator anchored atop a barge on Friday to remove Hurricane Irma debris – including a sunken motorhome – from Canal #242 at 6099 Overseas Highway in Marathon.

It was the start of a $49.2 million project to remove hurricane debris from 103 of the remaining most impacted canals in the Keys. A workforce of about 60 people – using 15 barges, 5 sonar boats, 4 grapple trucks and other equipment – will work at several sites simultaneously throughout the Keys to complete the project within the grant-mandated timeframe of 220 days.

After exhausting avenues for FEMA funding to clean up Hurricane Irma marine debris in Keys canals, Monroe County led a months-long effort to obtain alternate funding from the Emergency Watershed Protection Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

This type of funding was used following Hurricane Georges in 1998 to help the marine cleanup, but it is not commonly used for this purpose in the Keys. This time, it took a lot of advocating and work by County staff, help from leaders and staff of Marathon and Islamorada, and major advocating by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbello and State Rep. Holly Raschein, to be awarded this large grant.

“A miracle happened,” Monroe County Mayor David Rice told the crowd assembled at Canal #242 to watch the debris being removed to the happiness of nearby residents. “We are thankful to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for their assistance, cooperation and funding.”

A total of $49.2 million is available under the grant ($45.9 million for marine clearing activities and $3.3 million for monitoring). It is divided as follows: $35.2 million for unincorporated Monroe County, $7.5 million for Marathon and $6.5 million for Islamorada.

The federal grant has a local match (non-federal funds) of 25 percent. Monroe County will use $5.5 million of its Florida Keys Stewardship Act funds toward its portion of the local match. Monroe County is thankful to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for providing much of the local match for the County, Marathon and Islamorada.

FEMA has a comprehensive reimbursement policy in place for local governments to remove hurricane land debris, but FEMA does not have such a reimbursement policy for removing hurricane debris from canals.

“We did not want the expensive price tag for cleaning up the hurricane marine debris to be shouldered solely by our local residents who already have been through so much,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “That is why we worked so hard and persevered, with help from our municipal partners and our federal and state legislators, to get this alternative funding source. And once we were awarded the grant, County staff, led by Sustainability Director Rhonda Haag, worked hard to expedite its implementation so we can get these canals cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

The 103 canals that will be cleaned of hurricane debris under this grant are located in unincorporated Monroe County, Marathon and Islamorada. Eight of these canals are in the Upper Keys, 23 in the Middle Keys and 72 in the Lower Keys.

The County contracted with Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental to lead the cleanup. Adventure Environmental hired subcontractor Arnolds Towing of Stock Island to help meet the grant deadline. Both companies are using barges specifically built to perform in the Keys environment with minimal impact.  

The work will be monitored by Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions, Inc.

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