The last of the Keys canals on the Hurricane Irma cleanup list is being cleared out

About half of the 500 canals in the Florida Keys were left choked with debris by 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

But a 14-month project to clear out 247 canals on Monroe County’s post-Irma list is 97 percent complete as of Thursday, county spokeswoman Kristen Livengood said.

Crews have started digging out debris and items that somehow made their way into the waterways from the last canals on the list.

The canals so far have been cleared of about 16,400 cubic yards of junk that included vegetative debris along with boats, roofing, a toilet and a minivan, to name a few items.

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Greg Tolpin, on the right,from Adventure Environmental, Inc., a Tavernier-based company, talks about the project with County Administrator Roman Gastesi. Kristen Livengood

The project will come in under budget and before the deadline with 65 percent of the grant funding for cleanup has been spent.

“This shows how we get things done,” said Monroe County Commissioner David Rice.

Monroe County leaders celebrated the event Thursday at the Marathon canal that will be checked off as the last one in the post-Irma project.

“For the residents that live here, this is another symbol that we are coming back from the hurricane,” said Michelle Coldiron, a Monroe County commissioner from Marathon.

The canal cleanup was paid for from a budget of $45.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service through a grant process.

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Rhonda Haag, Monroe County’s Director of Sustainability, on the right, celebrates with Roman Gastesi, Monroe County Administrator at the last canal being cleared on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Kristen Livengood

“So many residents use canals as their highway,” Coldiron said. “This is how they make their livelihoods and for them to have their canals cleared of debris, business will be back to usual.”

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Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.