In just four weeks, multiple state and federal agencies have finalized a plan to handle the many boats displaced by Hurricane Irma. The U.S. Coast Guard, the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency: Each agency has assumed a distinct role to remove the estimated 1,300 boats from the water.
“It’s important for the public to understand that this is a free service; there is no cost,” said Capt. David Dipre of the FWC. “This is NOT a case where someone has abandoned a vessel and is liable. Hurricane Irma did this.”
Dipre said the agencies are working very quickly to remove the boats, accomplishing in one month what took four months after Hurricane Wilma. While some removals began this week, officials are still working to secure staging areas “on the hard,” where boats can be stored to be retrieved by owners, or smashed and sent to the landfill.
The biggest concentrations of displaced boats are in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon and near the islands of Fleming and Wisteria in Key West, plus the Key West mooring field and Boca Chica Basin.
“Our plan is to begin from the center, Marathon, and then expand operations east and west along the island chain,” said Lt. Quentin Long of the U.S. Coast Guard, incident management division chief for this emergency operation. He said there are currently two crews working with cranes and barges, and more may be added as the recovery effort picks up speed.
The Civil Air Patrol is helping to locate lost buoys with aerial reconnaissance. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is assessing the underwater damage. The public is urged to report conditions to the appropriate agency. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov for details.