This canal behind Key by the Sea condo complex in Marathon has been full of debris since the Sept. 10 storm. KATIE ATKINS/Keys Weekly

Good things come to those who wait, and when it comes to the condition of canals throughout Monroe County post-Hurricane Irma, a bit of good news arrived April 24.

Financial aid is potentially on the way for the county, City of Marathon and Village of Islamorada from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

The total estimated cost of cleanup for 513 canals throughout the Keys is $52.6 million. Debris removal from canals has been ongoing in the Lower Keys but has yet to start in the Middle and Upper Keys.

County program manager Rhonda Haag said $34 million is anticipated to be available soon.

“That includes (funding for) unincorporated Monroe, Islamorada and Marathon,” she said. “It covers 103 eligible canals of the total 513 canals in the Keys. It is based on reimbursement, so we have to spend the money first, and then get reimbursed.”

County Administrator Roman Gastesi said the money also can be used for cleanup of sand which was swept into some of the canals. State money from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been used only for debris so far. 

“I think the best way to describe this is, it’s a more comprehensive cleanup. It’s a proven program that’s been utilized here in the Keys in the past and it’s meant for this kind of situation,” he said. “It’s the perfect program for what we need to do.”

The county originally requested about $45 million from the NRCS, according to county spokeswoman Cammy Clark. 

NRCS staff deemed 103 of the most heavily affected canals eligible for funding to date, she said; eight are in the Upper Keys, 23 in the Middle Keys and 72 in the Lower Keys. 

Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey told city council members at the April 24 meeting that Marathon is eligible for about $8 million. 

“The county’s been working hard on receiving this funding,” he said, adding the cost match will be 25 percent, meaning Monroe, Marathon and Islamorada will potentially receive 75 percent back. “Our desire would be to just get it done and use our contractor, but there may be certain requirements. This is good news.”

The NRCS received the application from the Keys on Feb. 15. The county is anticipating receiving an agreement soon from the NRCS, Clark said.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has funded $10 million for cleanup costs. 

That too is on a reimbursement basis, so Monroe County, Marathon and Islamorada will reimburse DEP, then seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Haag said. 

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