Cleanup efforts and removal operations of displaced vessels are progressing throughout Florida waterways 12 weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys.
The Unified Command for the response — officially titled Emergency Support Function 10 (ESF-10) Florida — consists of leaders from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Currently, 2,069 displaced vessels have been removed from Florida waterways. More than 1,500 vessels have been removed from Florida Keys waters. Approximately 160 people from state and federal agencies are involved in the disaster response.
Responders are prioritizing the removal of vessels based on potential environmental impact.
“We are making significant progress along the east coast of Florida and the Keys thanks to our partnerships and the tremendous help of vessel owners taking initiative,” said Jay Marvin, FWC incident commander for ESF-10 Florida. “We couldn’t be as successful as we have been were it not for vessel owners assisting with the removal process, contributing to our efforts. Our success is their success.”
Vessel owners are encouraged to hire a salvage company to recover their vessels in order to provide the safest removal method possible for the public and environment. Owners wishing to remove their own vessels are encouraged to visit the following website for guidelines and best practices http://myfwc.com/boating/vessel-hotline/removal.
Owners of displaced vessels who lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair may release ownership of their vessel through a waiver provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The waiver process can be initiated by contacting FWC through the Vessel Removal Hotline at 305-985-3744 and requesting to turn over a displaced vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the potential turnover of ownership.
Monroe County’s new hurricane debris contractor, DRC Emergency Services, has about 33 trucks working on county roads in the hardest-hit area of the Keys from mile marker 16 to 40. About 8,000 cubic yards of debris is being collected each day in this area.
Hurricane debris contractors cannot pick up on private roads due to FEMA regulations. If you live on a private road, you can bring your debris to the closest county right of way. Monroe County public works employees are collecting debris on these private roads and bringing it to the closest right of way.
Collection will continue in this area for the next few weeks. No deadline has been set for a final pass.
In Key Largo and Tavernier, the final pass on county roads is almost complete. The deadline to put debris on county roads or U.S. Highway 1 in this area has passed.
The final pass on Conch Key, Duck Key and Layton will begin as soon as a debris management site can be leased by DRC. Progress is being made and the hope is that final passes in those areas will be able to begin soon.
The Florida Department of Transportation has the jurisdiction to collect debris along U.S. 1 in the Keys. FDOT has told the county and Keys municipalities it has completed picking up debris along U.S. 1. The county and municipalities cannot pick up debris along U.S. 1 until jurisdiction is worked out with FDOT in order to get reimbursed by FEMA.
NOAA LT Rosemary Abbitt oversees the removal of a sunken sailboat west of Fleming Key. The six-hour process was part of post-Hurricane Irma operations with staff from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary serving as natural resource advisors to reduce further impact to sensitive habitat. A Unified Command led by U.S. Coast Guard is assessing and removing more than 1,700 damaged and displaced vessels in the Florida Keys that pose environmental and navigational hazards.
Due to lack of resources, Monroe County requested that the state Department of Environmental Protection lead and conduct the removal of hurricane marine debris and derelict vessels in canals.
The County is close to entering into a mutual aid agreement with DEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the removal of hurricane marine debris and derelict vessels in canals in unincorporated Monroe County. At this time, plugged canals are not included, but the County is working to address debris removal in them at a later time.
The Plantation Yacht Harbor Marina Boat Ramp at Founders Park will now be open on weekends. The public is welcome to use the boat ramp from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays beginning October 21.
The ramp remains open only to Islamorada fishing guides Monday through Friday.
Visitors to the park and boat ramp are advised to be cautious while driving through Founders Park as the park continues to be used as a staging/grinding area for hurricane debris and debris trucks drive through the park frequently.
Other Founders Park News:
The baseball field has been added to the Founders Park amenities that are open to the public Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Also open during the limited hours are the pool, tennis courts, basketball courts and fitness park with the pickleball court.
Everyone is invited to a Halloween Party at the Ron Levy Aquatic Center on Friday, Oct. 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. Activities include a Haunted Slip-N-Slide, Best Halloween Mask Contest, games and lots of treats. Aquatic Center fees apply. Contact the Founders Park and Recreation Department at 305-853-1685 for more information.
The Halloween event is open to the public. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, all persons who are disabled and who need special accommodation to participate in the event because of a disability should contact the ADA Coordinator at ADA@islamorada.fl.us or 305-664-6448 at least 48 hours before a scheduled event.
The Florida Unified Command that includes the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is providing a service for boat owners allowing them to relinquish ownership of their damaged vessel to facilitate a quicker response to pollution and safety concerns in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Owners of displaced vessels who lack the resources to have their boat repaired or if their vessel is determined to be beyond repair, may hand over ownership of their vessel through a waiver provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, available through the Vessel Removal Hotline at 305-985-3744.
“If a vessel owner knows that they do not have the financial means to take responsibility for their vessel and would like to turn over their ownership, completing the waiver allows the FWC to quickly dispose of it for them,” said FWC Capt. Jay Marvin, State On-Scene Coordinator. “Eliminating the time to salvage and then store a vessel when the owner does not want to recover it will enable us to remove vessels more quickly from Florida’s waterways.”
The waiver process can be initiated by contacting FWC through the Vessel Removal Hotline and requesting to turn over a displaced vessel. An FWC representative will then contact the owner to explain the waiver process and facilitate the turnover of ownership.
As the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary strives to assess impacts from Hurricane Irma, the public is asked to help by reporting conditions on and in the water. The observations will assist sanctuary staff in responding to immediate concerns and developing short- and long-term management actions.
First and foremost, be careful of on-water and underwater hazards when boating, diving and snorkeling. Water depths have changed in many areas and visibility may be impaired.
To share observations about the sanctuary’s natural resources, use the online reporting tool for the Mote Marine Laboratories Community-Based Observations of Coastal Ecosystems and Assessment Network (C-OCEAN):
Hurricane Irma’s churning seas damaged and displaced buoys that mark areas with specific regulations, assist with navigation and provide information.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is asking boaters to report damaged or missing lines, missing buoys and found buoys to 305-852-7717 from Key Largo to Marathon and 305-809-4727 for Marathon through Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
Yellow, 30-inch diameter buoys mark zones such as Sanctuary Preservation Areas, Ecological Reserves and Special-Use Research Only Areas. Spar buoys are cylindrical, tall and white with orange markings for Wildlife Management Areas and sites on the Shipwreck Trail.
The nearly 500 mooring buoys in the sanctuary are 18 inches in diameter with a blue stripe. They provide an alternative to anchoring, which can damage the coral reef. Anchoring is prohibited on coral in waters less than 40 feet deep and when the bottom is visible.
Hurricane Irma survivors whose primary residence was a boat may be eligible for grants through FEMA’s Individual Assistance program for home repair. The grants could be used for making the boat livable, temporary housing, personal property replacement and other needs or critical expenses.
Individuals who live on houseboats may also be eligible for FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance or short-term lodging assistance, if they are unable to return to their home due to the hurricane. For more information, contact the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 (Voice, 711 or VS) or 800-462-7585 (TTY).
In addition, if your primary residence was a boat, you may be eligible to apply for a Small Business Administration disaster home loan. Homeowners may be eligible for up to $200,000 to repair or replace a disaster damaged home, and may be eligible for loans up to $40,000, to repair or replace disaster damaged personal property such as clothing, furniture, appliances, cars, etc.