Florida Keys

Hundreds of canals were junked up by Irma. Now, $49 million will help clean the worst

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 will use $49.2 million from a federal grant to clean canals still filled with debris from Hurricane Irma nine months after the storm struck.

Most of the money, which is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, will go to unincorporated Monroe while Marathon will get $7.5 million and Islamorada will receive $6.5 million.

The grant is enough to clean 103 of the dirtiest canals. Debris in some canals included RVs and the roofs of trailers. The county pegged the cleaning of all the canals at $52.3 million.

While the USDA program will reimburse the county $37.8 million, the local match is $11.4 million and will be paid for by the county, Marathon and Islamorada.

The majority of the canals, 72, are in the Lower Keys.

The county will coordinate the hiring of firms and all canal cleanup.

Work is expected to begin in August, said county spokeswoman Cammy Clark.

The Monroe County Commission has to approve the grant first, and its next meeting is in July.

"Many thanks go to County Administrator Roman Gastesi for leading the effort," said Rhonda Haag, Monroe County's sustainability director, who is leading the canal cleanup effort. "It was his idea to work with NRCS in applying for the grant, due to his knowledge of previous NRCS canal clearing work performed after Hurricane Georges."

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