Canal cleanup is going well in the Keys, Rubio says. But 145 still need to be cleared

Canal cleanup from 2017’s Hurricane Irma continues in the Florida Keys, as county leaders grapple with finding the money to clear more canals than the 172 covered by a $49 million federal grant.

Republican U. S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Friday visited Marathon, one of the hardest-hit spots along the island chain, to check on the progress of the canal cleaning. He said he would help Keys officials obtain the approval they need to clean an additional 145 canals that aren’t on the current project list.


This canal in Marathon, pictured on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, was cleared of debris left by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Gwen Filosa

But Rubio took time to congratulate locals on getting the job more than 80 percent complete, under budget and ahead of schedule. So far, $15.6 million of the $45.8 million budgeted by the Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service has been used for debris removal. The rest of the grant money is for environmental monitoring of the project.

Friday marked Rubio’s third trip to the same Marathon Canal, located in a trailer park at 6099 Overseas Hwy., since Irma struck.

The canal was one of the county’s worst spots due to Irma, once filled with sunken motorhomes and household appliances. Rubio was there when it looked like a mini disaster in April 2018.

“We went back to D.C. and we fought to get the money to get this cleaned up,” Rubio said. “It’s a good example of how local, state and federal government officials working together can make something positive happen.”


Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, center, meets in Marathon on Feb. 8, 2019, with County Commissioners Michelle Coldiron, left, and David Rice, right.

Gwen Filosa

Monroe County has enough federal dollars to clear more canals, having received a $49 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service. The money was designated to clear 172 canals of debris but the county was denied approval to use the grant to clear 145 more.

“It’s supposed to be for debris removal but not for sediment removal,” Rubio said. “And that’s an interpretation that they have. That’s not the way it was interpreted in that past. We need to go back through the appeals process and figure out why was the application was denied so the reapplication can be submitted or the existing application can be approved. The money’s there.”

County leaders have hope the 145 canals will win approval from the federal agency.

“With the help of Sen. Rubio we’ll have a much better chance getting a little bit of an attitude change with the people who work on us for approvals,” said County Commissioner David Rice. “The money is there, but the money doesn’t do it without the go-ahead. We need the go-ahead.”

There are some 500 canals in the Florida Keys. They’re like roads here, Rubio said.

“If we had roads that had trees and debris on them we would clean it up,” he said. “They were unnavigable and frankly, ran the risk of long-term damage to the ecology.”


Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; right, helps lift “Lady Bradley,” a loggerhead sea turtle, on her way to be released off the Florida Keys, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in Marathon, Fla. The turtle was rescued off the Upper Keys in November 2018 after it entangled in a fish trap line. It was taken to the Keys-based Turtle Hospital and treated for several months before being deemed fit for release. Hospital founder Richie Moretti is at left. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Andy Newman Florida Keys News Bureau

Rubio’s Marathon visit Friday also included a trip to the local beach to help the local Turtle Hospital release a rehabilitated 170-pound loggerhead, named Lady Bradley, back into the ocean.