canal cleanup in the Keys
Gus Rios, a state DEP official, left, Assistant Monroe County Attorney Cynthia Hall, Monroe County Mayor David Rice and DEP Deputy Secretary David Clark view debris in a canal in Marathon.

The Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to lead marine debris removal efforts throughout Florida, including the Keys. Monroe County and the City of Marathon have agreed to be local partners, offering local knowledge and coordination for prioritizing canals and nearshore waters for cleanup.

On Tuesday, the Marathon City Council approved the first hearing of an ordinance to make it happen. A special call meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19 is scheduled for the second hearing of the ordinance.

The ordinance also allows the city to clear the canals of debris whether they are privately or publicly owned, an ambiguous distinction even in non-emergency times, for the sake of water quality. It also allows the city to access private property to facilitate the removal of debris from the canals.

“There were some misleading statements on the radio, though, about this provision,” said City Attorney David Migut. “We only enter the property if we have the owner’s permission and only if they have filled out a right of entry form.”

Councilman Mark Senmartin said most homeowners, presumably, would be eager to hasten this process so as to enjoy clean canals again.

City of Marathon staff will help with some of the oversight of the work carried out by the DRC Emergency Services, a firm specializing in removal of marine debris. City staff said DRC is already in the Keys and ready to begin work at the beginning of 2018 not only in Marathon, but also in affected parts of unincorporated Monroe County.

Marathon Deputy City Manager George Garrett said staff has reviewed all 133 canals in Marathon. Of those, there are 35 canals with “persistent” debris, debris that has sunk to the bottom or has not floated out on the tide. It’s estimated that about 10,000 cubic yards of trash will be removed from Marathon canals when the project is complete.

“I think it’s safe to say that the canal with the worst debris, in all of the Keys, is the one at Key by the Sea,” said Garrett.

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