Florida Keys

Keys canals choked with debris from Irma will finally start to be cleaned up next month

Debris in a canal on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, Jan. 18, 2018. Debris has littered the canals in the Keys after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Middle Keys in September 2017.
Debris in a canal on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, Jan. 18, 2018. Debris has littered the canals in the Keys after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Middle Keys in September 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The Monroe County Commission on Wednesday approved a $35 million contract, by a 5-0 vote, with a single company, Adventure Environmental, for the job of cleaning up canals still choked by debris from Hurricane Irma. The company will subcontract with local firms.

Now that a company is on board, the cleaning of Florida Keys canals will begin Aug. 16. — 11 months after Irma struck on Sept. 10, 2017, leaving hundreds of canals littered with debris that ranges from pieces of homes to RVs.

An estimated 97,000 cubic yards of awnings, roofs, downed trees, broken docks and other debris are blocking canals not only for boats but manatees and other marine life.

Eighty of the canals are in unincorporated Monroe. It will take an estimated 200 days — until March 3, 2019 — to clear the canals on Big Pine Key, which was among the hardest-hit by the Category 4 hurricane, and to clear those in Marathon.

County officials have secured $34 million of federal funding to clear 103 canals in 220 days. Adding in $11 million from the county, there is $45.8 million available for the project and more funds may be added to the contract.

During Wednesday’s meeting in Marathon there was discussion about whether one company can handle the canal cleaning.

“There is significant risk for Monroe County to rely on one vendor,” said Frank Fernandez, of ATL, the company that came in second on the bid. “This is a very large project. It’s not just going up and down the canals. It’s trucking debris to debris management sites. It includes reducing the debris, separating the debris and taking the debris to its final destination.”

The county reserved the right to hire other companies in the order they were ranked in the bidding process, if needed.

Ricky Arnold Jr. of Arnold’s Towing on Stock Island said the county doesn’t need to contract with a second firm.

“This job is doable,” Arnold said. “It might be one name, Adventure, but there’s six of us working with him. They’re all six companies that are local — local divers, local boats. We’re the guys who were on the front lines when the storm hit.”

Monroe hired a company to clear the canals earlier, but the firm quit in May after a few months, saying it underbid the job and also that its workers couldn’t find affordable living arrangements, according to county officials.

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