On Sept. 10, the anniversary of Hurricane Irma, it was a veritable crush of dignitaries. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, state Rep. Holly Raschein, and state Rep. Jeanette Nunez (who was just named as Republican governor candidate Ron DeSantis’ running mate), arrived in Marathon. They met with City of Marathon officials, checked on the progress of canal cleanup, and attended Fishermen’s Hospital’s ceremony as well as a furniture giveaway sponsored by Farm Share.

What’s the take-away?

“We’ve done lots of good work recovering from Irma, but there is lots of work still to do. Families are still struggling,” said Curbelo.

Rubio, attending a special meeting at Marathon City Hall, learned about canal cleanup progress performed with funds he was instrumental in securing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Environmental Adventure, the umbrella contractor overseeing the cleanup, reported that 20 canals of the 103 severely impacted canals are in final stages of completion just three weeks into the job. There are six “stations” operating simultaneously along the island chain from Key Largo to Key West.

“That’s about 20 percent of the canals, and so far we have only used about 5 percent of the funds,” said Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi. “We’re ahead of schedule and ahead of budget.”

Gastesi cautioned Rubio that the county may apply for more funds to clean other canals, not as severely impacted, as well as dredging needs.

City officials also took the opportunity to discuss the lack of FEMA reimbursement for municipal costs — about $30 million each for Monroe County and City of Marathon. Rubio asked if this was a federal delay or a state delay. Gastesi said it’s a “combo” and everyone at the table agreed the amount of proof to substantiate hurricane claims was knocked off track by the amount of fraud perpetuated after Hurricane Katrina.

“We spend more money being accountable than people can steal from us,” said Monroe County Mayor David Rice.

Officials from Baptist Health South Florida organized a press conference to reiterate its commitment to the Middle Keys.

“This asset is vital,” said Curbelo, speaking in front of Fishermen’s Hospital modular hospital that will begin accepting in-patients soon and remain on-site for two years while the permanent $40 million hospital is constructed.

From there, the entourage moved to San Pablo Catholic Church — the site of the Farm Share giveaway. Since Irma, the nonprofit that deals mainly in food donations has stepped up. It has brought down tractor trailers filled with mattresses, and collected and distributed $100,000 in gift cards in the Middle Keys.

“In the beginning, we brought food, water and ice down to the Keys,” said COO Stephen Shelley. “In all, I think we have made 14 trips to the Keys. In the 10 days after Hurricane Irma, we distributed 1.7 million pounds of food, ice and water all across Florida.”

From the church, the delegation moved west to Sunshine Key for the unveiling of the restored RV camp, and then to The Quarry on Big Coppitt Key for the groundbreaking of a 208-unit affordable housing development.

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