First, there were piles of debris and thousands of appliances at the Florida Keys Country Club in Marathon.
Now, the eye of a passerby is drawn to boats, and lots of them. Some of their hulls are green and covered in barnacles while others don’t appear to have been damaged too much in the Sept. 10 storm that ravaged the Keys and left behind widespread devastation.
Since November, the number of boats damaged or destroyed in the Category 4 storm and pulled from the ocean has gone up by 315. As of last week, 1,671 boats had been taken out of Keys waters by state and federal agencies.
Of those, roughly 672 vessels have been removed from the waters in Marathon and Big Pine Key, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Himes.
If not claimed by the owner, boats are crushed in a staging area with an excavator. There are seven staging areas throughout the county. The Florida Keys Country Club is a staging area, but boats are not being destroyed there yet.
In the Upper Keys, at Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, they are. On Big Pine Key, on a lot adjacent to Strike Zone Charters at bayside mile marker 29.5, they are being crushed as well.
Rumors of the boats being put in a grinder last week sparked concern over what might be floating in the air around the staging areas.
In a Keynoter letter to the editor Wednesday, a woman living near Harry Harris Park said she’s worried about “particulates we all might be breathing in as a result of the open crushing.”
Himes said there are barriers surrounding the boats as they’re crushed and the materials are heavy, meaning they don’t travel very far in the air. Most of the crushing is done in the storage container the crushed boats are hauled away in. Prior to that, they’re surgically dismantled, picked up piece by piece and put in the containers.
“So if there is anything released during crushing it’s more likely to fall down immediately. Also, our safety officer for the entire response is an industrial hygienist and he oversees the safety of all operations,” Himes said.
About 145 people from state and federal agencies are involved in the work, prioritizing the removal of vessels based on potential environmental impact in a group called ESF-10, Himes said. ESF-10, officially called Emergency Support Function 10 Florida, has been working seven days a week, he said, and it comprises the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219