Canal debris removal in Islamorada hit completion last December. With 20 canals cleared of large amounts of hurricane debris, village officials are now working to get federal approval to tackle more sediment disposal work.

Overall, Islamorada Environmental Resources Manager Peter Frezza, village staff and Monroe County were impressed with the way the cleanup was carried out. Frezza said construction crews that undertook the work and environmental oversight did a great job, based on discussions and feedback from residents.

“We didn’t receive any negative feedback from the work. It was all positive,” he said. “The environmental oversight was outstanding. We had no environmental issues in the canal or at the disposal site. They kept on the time schedule and kept on budget and didn’t have any issues with any of those items.”

The cleanup, headed by Tavernier-based Adventure Environmental, removed more than 1,000 cubic yards of debris, which included car and boat batteries, gas tanks, trees, appliances, old docks and roofing materials. Frezza said debris in the canal was a hidden danger that could have released toxins for decades into the water.

“A lot couldn’t be seen,” he said. “It may not be so impressive to the eye because of the depth of the canal and inability to see, but we know, given how much debris was removed and what was at disposal sites. We’re getting reports visually that canals look much better and appealing.”

The canal sediment removal project area at Sea Lane and Ocean Lane. CONTRIBUTED

With debris cleared, work is now on to get canals approved for sediment removal. Monroe County submitted 34 canals to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for funding for sediment removal post-hurricane. Ten were approved for funding. NRCS approved two canals in Lower Matecumbe, but seven others in the village were denied.

“We are hoping that we’ll be able to resubmit. We currently are asking NRCS to reconsider some of these canals denied,” Frezza said.” We had some lobbyists lobbying, and the county has been as well, just because there’s only 10 canals in the entire county approved. There was more money to have work done. We’re disappointed with the lack of work approved for sediment removal.”

One approved canal is located between Sea and Ocean lanes, while the other is at Sunset and Iroquois drives. Frezza said work on the two canals is for a certain section and not the whole length.

“For the one on Sunset and Iroquois, it’s for two relatively small sections. For Sea Lane and Ocean Lane, it’s one section,” he said. “We’re not happy with that and residents are not happy either.”

Permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are required before any sediment-removal projects begin. With a March 21 project deadline approaching, Monroe County has submitted a request to extend it 60 days to allow additional time for sediment removal projects.

“We did get approval for a 60-day extension, which moves the end date into the third week of May,” Frezza said. “Once we hit that deadline, we are supposed to have the work done.”

Frezza commended the county for work in securing grant money through NRCS’ Emergency Watershed Protection Program to get canals back in better shape.

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